Lost ideals, shaken ground

A scholarly journal and news magazine. April 2015. Vol. VIII:1–2. From
the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University.
April 2015. Vol. VIII:1–2
The story of Papusza,
a Polish Roma poet
Special section
Gender &
Special theme
Voices on solidarity
Special section: Post-Soviet gender discourses. Special theme: Voices on solidarity
also in this issue
Illustration: Karin Sunvisson
Rus & Magyars / Estonia in exile / Diplomacy during WWII / Anna Walentynowicz / Hijab fashion
Sponsored by the Foundation
for Baltic and East European Studies
in this issue
Times of disorientation
he prefix “post-” in “post-Soviet”
or “post-socialist Europe” indicates
that there is a past from which one
seeks to depart. In this issue we will
discuss the more existential meaning of this
“departing”. What does it means to have all
that is rote, role, and rules — and seemingly
self-evident — rejected and cast away? What
is it to lose the basis of your identity when the
society of which you once were a part ceases
to exist and is condemned entirely to the realm
of memories? Those sentiments, standing on
loose and fractured ground, will be addressed
in this thick double issue.
In the special section “Gender and postSoviet discourses”, a variety of articles will discuss
the search for new models, new behaviors, and
new identities for both men and women in the
post-Soviet sphere. An intersectional perspective
on gender in the post-Soviet space is applied in
the contributions, all written by researchers who
have lived or worked in the post-Soviet countries.
Analysis of different representations — photos,
media, comic books — uncovers those post-Soviet
discourses. The lack of theories to understand
and analyze the specific case of the post-socialist
countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus
is emphasized. In Madina Tlostana’s essay, criticism is raised against the way Westernized images
mark Caucasian women as “the Other”. Yulia
Gradskova in her essay brings up how the global
equality agenda is pushed upon all societies in the
same manner, ignoring and denying alternative
ways of participating.
Ekaterina Kalinina and Liudmila Vornova
write in their introduction that “gender appears
as a conjunction between the past and the present, where the established present seems not to
recognize the past, but at the same time eagerly
re-enacts the past discourses of domination.”
Another collection of shorter essays is connected to the concept of solidarity. Ludger
Hagedorn has gathered together different
voices, all adding insights into the meaning of
solidarity. Solidarity is discussed as almost a
verb, something we create, make, do, as an act
of survival. Explosions of solidarity can occur
when people overcome fear, writes Leonard
Neuger. Alexander Kropotkin's analysis, that
solidarity may be the fittest way for humans to
survive is questioned. Solidarity is sacrificing
yourself, argues Kateryna Mishchenko, writing
from Ukraine. Solidarity is formed in opposition, suggests another essay, one discussing
female participation in the Solidarność. According to the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, solid
grounds are not the foundation of solidarity; on
the contrary, solidarity is a meaningful option
when ground is tenuous.
Transition is often been discussed as having
a direction, indicating that the “post-” era is a
period that has a clear beginning, and a priori,
also a clear end. But existentially, this “post”state of mind rather seems to leave men and
women disoriented in time and space; left in a
state between what has been and what is not
yet. In one sense, this could be an opportunity
for change growing from within; confusion as a
Ninna Mörner
bearer of possibilites. ≈
We welcome five new members of the Editorial Scientific Advisory Council: Sofie Bedford, political
science; Michael Gentile, human geography; Markus Huss, literature; Katarina Leppänen, history of ideas,
and Kazimierz Musiał, Scandinavian studies. We also warmly thank our three retiring members, all in political science, Li Bennich-Björkman, Lars Johannsen, Ann-Cathrine Jungar, for the inspiring and valuable
contributions to the Editorial Scientific Advisory Council over the years.
The story
of a Polish
Roma poet
Throughout the film,
there is a sense that
the walls, both perceived and
real, are closing in on the Polish
Roma.” Page 4
A Swedish
diplomat and his
reporting on the
... it’s still not clear what
happened with von
Otter’s information and whether
it reached Stockholm at all or
remained stuck at the legation
in Berlin.”
Page 8
What you read in the footers is the voice of the editor. Not that of the authors.
Baltic Worlds is a scholarly
journal and news magazine
published by CBEES (Centre
for Baltic and East European
Studies) at Södertörn University, Sweden.
4 Papusza. The story of a Polish Roma poet,
Piotr Wawrzeniuk.
conference reports
33 Maidan 2014. Thinking together, Krister
34 Ukraine. Round table 2015.
Yuliya Yurchuk.
108 The magic of Moomin. Sara Granath.
peer-reviewed essays
8 Von Otter’s missing report.
The Holocaust and foreign policy,
Mose Apelblat.
19 Kin-states relations. Departed from their
homelands, Kjetil Duvold.
75 Exile activists. Estonian dissidents in
Sweden during the Cold War,
Lars Fredrik Stöcker.
On solidarity
Guest editor: Ludger Hagedorn.
86 Introduction, solidarity beyond
exclusion, Ludger Hagedorn.
91 Some thoughts on solidarity,
Leonard Neuger.
94 Women in the Solidarity movement,
Ewa Majewska.
98 Fraternity, Jean-Luc Nancy.
101 Solidarity of the shaken, Gustav
103 Suffering in Ukraine, Kateryna
104 Final remarks, Ludger Hagedorn.
missing air force plane: The secret
of the Cold War, Thomas Lundén.
special section
35Gender and post-Soviet discourses
Guest editors: Liudmila Voronova, Ekaterina
Kalinina, Ulrika Dahl.
36 Introduction, Liudmila Voronova
and Ekaterina Kalinina.
38Post-colonialism and intersectionality,
Madina Tlostova.
44 Gendered surveillance in Azerbaijan, Ilkin
& female participation
& intersectionality
Male roles in
comic series
images of power
Masculinity in
West & East
Translating the global
gender agenda
48Paternalistic images of
power, Ekaterina Vikulina.
Gender &
57 New male identity in
comic series, Daria
64 Studies on masculinity in Ukraine,
Tetyana Bureychak.
69 Translating gender equality, Yulia
Baltic Worlds special section
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available at the website.
Ninna Mörner
Joakim Ekman
Editorial scientific
advisory council
Sari Autio-Sarasmo, Aleksanteri
Institute, Helsinki; Sofie Bedford,
UCRS, Uppsala University;
Michael Gentile, Helsinki
University; Monica Hammer,
Södertörn University; Markus
Huss, Södertörn University;
Katarina Leppänen, CERGU,
University of Gothenburg;
Thomas Lundén (Chair), CBEES;
Kazimierz Musiał, University
of Gdańsk; Barbara TörnquistPlewa, Centre for European
Studies, Lund University
Copyediting, proofreading
Tony Crawford, Semantix;
Brian Manning Delaney, English
Proper; Jean Lawrence, Krysia
Lear, Proper English AB; Andrea
Z. Scharf; Bridget Schäfer
Sara Bergfors, Lena Fredriksson,
Vera Hovne, Serpentin Media
Karin Sunvisson, Ragni
Svensson, Moa Thelander
Sofia Barlind
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Printed issue: ISSN 2000-2955
Online issue: ISSN 2001-7308
Contact Baltic Worlds
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In this issue we visit: Nazi Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia, Soviet, Scandinavia, and the Baltic states.
n recent decades, new relations between
her life — the events before the early 1950s in
the majority population and Roma have
been developing in Poland. This has partBorn around 1910 in Lublin, she was dely been a result of normal assimilation
clared to be fated to bring either pride or
processes, but there has also been a shrinkshame to her family. The next scene takes
ing distance between Roma and non-Roma,
the viewer to a prison somewhere in Poland
as well as a growing mobilization and sense
where Papusza is serving a sentence for reof agency within Roma society. The Roma
peated theft (due to her husband’s love of stopeople have entered the spheres of media,
len rather than bought poultry); she is put in
education, and popular culture on an unpreca ministerial car and taken straight to the preedented scale.1 The film Papusza can be seen
miere of a bombastic piece of music to which
as a result of these processes.
her poems were set. She and her husband are
Papusza was first screened in autumn 2013.
seated along ministers, Party fat cats, and the
The film offers interpretations of several phecream of the Polish cultural establishment.
nomena: the fate of the Roma community in
Afterwards, she and her husband Dionizy,
Poland from the interwar period to the 1970s;
24 years her senior, return to their miserable
“Papusza” (Bronisława Wajs).
the personal fate of the renowned Romani
quarters in Gorzów Wielkopolski in western
poet “Papusza”2 (Bronisława Wajs); and the
Poland, where they have been living since
poet’s relationship with her husband, Dionizy
their tabor stopped traveling in 1954. One witWajs. In addition to Papusza, Jerzy Ficowski, a student on the
nesses the degradation faced by the community prevented from
run from Communist repression — who, for a time, shared the
traveling, forced to live in houses where the men, in particular,
couple’s life of traveling in the late 1940s — is in focus. He transunable to practice their traditional trade as musicians, sink
lated what Papusza viewed as her “songs” into Polish. The idea
into despair, passing time drinking and chatting about the old
of someone calling her songs “poetry” seemed outlandish to her. times. In a particularly dramatic scene, a delirious Dionizy Wajs
The screenplay seems to be based on Papusza’s own account of
chops his former pride, the family wagon, into pieces. This is
Tears of Blood:
In the woods. No water, no fire — great
Where could the children sleep? No tent.
We could not light the fire at night.
By day, the smoke would alert the Germans.
How to live with children in the cold of
All are barefoot…
When they wanted to murder us,
first they forced us to hard labor.
A German came to see us.
— I have bad news for you.
They want to kill you tonight.
Don’t tell anybody.
I too am a dark Gypsy,
How we Suffered under the German Soldiers in Volhynia from 1943 to 1944
of your blood — a true one.
God help you
in the black forest…
Having said these words,
he embraced us all…
For two three days no food.
All go to sleep hungry.
Unable to sleep,
they stare at the stars…
God, how beautiful it is to live!
The Germans will not let us…
Ah, you, my little star!
At dawn you are large!
Blind the Germans!
Confuse them,
lead them astray,
so the Jewish and Gypsy child can live!
When big winter comes,
what will the Gypsy woman with a small
child do?
Where will she find clothing?
Everything is turning to rags.
One wants to die.
No one knows, only the sky,
only the river hears our lament.
Whose eyes saw us as enemies?
Whose mouth cursed us?
Do not hear them, God.
Hear us!
A cold night came,
The story of
a Polish Roma poet
by Piotr Wawrzeniuk
not merely an act of blind despair, but a way of keeping the flat
warm for the family weakling, Papusza’s and Dionizy’s adopted
son Tarzan.
The fame won by the publication of Papusza’s poetry proves
problematic. Romani elders hold her responsible for revealing
Romani secrets to the general public, and she is banished from
the society of Polska Roma,3 suffers a nervous breakdown, and
spends some time at a mental institution. Her kin abandon her.
Papusza continues on alone in a run-down flat, with her husband staying by her side.
We learn that Papusza found Tarzan in Volhynia, minutes
after a Nazi German detachment massacred a group of Roma
in a barn, leaving Tarzan the only survivor. The genocide of
the Roma constitutes a short story within the film, containing
the scene of the massacre and Papusza’s group hiding in the
woods. Traditionally roaming through Volhynia and Polesia,
many among Polska Roma headed for the woods once it became clear they were becoming targets of the Nazis’ genocidal
The Polish Roma’s shrinking space
Throughout the film, there is a sense that the walls, both perceived
and real, are closing in on the Polish Roma. With the outbreak of
the World War II their life space starts to shrink. While the viewer
is not spared the hardships of nomadic life during the interwar
the old Gypsy women sang
a Gypsy fairy tale:
Golden winter will come,
snow, like little stars,
will cover the earth, the hands.
The black eyes will freeze,
the hearts will die.
So much snow fell,
it covered the road.
One could only see the Milky Way
in the sky.
On such night of frost
a little daughter dies,
and in four days
mothers bury in the snow
four little sons.
Sun, without you,
time, including animosities with the settled population, the outbreak of war shows the spiral into outright disaster. There was a lack
of understanding of the approaching threat, then dispersal into the
woods and swamps of Volhynia and Polesia. Then, once the war
is over, vegetation in the backyards of the suburban tenement
houses to which Papusza’s group is confined, narrow, dirty, and
grim. Papusza’s solitary moments of solemn contemplation,
cigarette in mouth, are accompanied by the ominous sounds of
screeching crows or distant train whistles, or both. Those sounds
forebode disintegration. Papusza becomes an outcast from Polska
Roma society, but also keeps society at large at arm’s length. Although a member of the Polish Society of Literature since 1962,
she refuses most literary prizes she is offered, as well as a writer’s
pension. While suffering a nervous breakdown, she burns many
poems and her correspondence. She has been an outsider all
her life, from the moment she began to learn to read and write,
supported by an old Jewish female shopkeeper. The letters of
the Polish alphabet, which she used when painstakingly writing
down her songs phonetically in Romani, distanced her from her
community, yet they brought her no closer to Polish society. The
former would not understand her striving to knowledge; the latter
would not let her in anyway, beyond the expressions of support
when she was showcased as an elevation of one humble person
from masses in the People’s Republic of Poland.
The scenery and nature in the film are painfully beautiful. The
see how a little Gypsy
is dying from cold
in the big forest.
Once, at home, the moon stood in the
didn’t let me sleep. Someone looked
I asked — who is there?
— Open the door, my dark Gypsy.
I saw a beautiful young Jewish girl,
shivering from cold,
asking for food.
You poor thing, my little one.
I gave her bread, whatever I had, a shirt.
We both forgot that not far away
were the police.
But they didn’t come that night.
All the birds
are praying for our children,
so the evil people, vipers, will not kill
Ah, fate!
My unlucky luck!
Snow fell as thick as leaves,
barred our way,
such heavy snow, it buried the cartwheels.
One had to trample a track,
push the carts behind the horses.
How many miseries and hungers!
How many sorrows and roads!
How many sharp stones pierced our feet!
How many bullets flew by our ears!
Translated from the Polish by Yala Korwin.
Papausza as a
bronze statue, in
Gorzów Wielkopolski, where she
settled in the 1950s.
Scenes from the film Papusza.
The film poster.
story, shown in black and white, never turns into color. The tone
remains muted. While the final text is scrolling, we witness a
group of Roma wagons separating and leaving in unknown directions, disappearing. At the risk of over-interpreting, this scene
can be viewed as the fate long faced by the four main groups of
Roma in Poland: division between the groups, divisions within
the groups, and physical remoteness from each other. Like the
old Romani culture, the wagons disappear. One can wait a long
time for a romantic streak from the directors Joanna Kos-Krauze
and Krzysztof Krauze.
The episodic treatment of the genocide (merely three to four
minutes of the film) is not coincidental. The persecution and
genocide of the Roma, symbolized mainly by the conditions of
the Zigeunerlager in Birkenau, brought about the breakdown of
the traditional Romani culture and society. The ritual purity was
compromised; the community shaken and turned upside-down.
To talk within the Romani groups about what happened would
have been incomprehensible. Even many years after the war,
non-Roma interviewers often turned out to be the first persons
to whom Romani survivors communicated their experiences.4
One such person was Jerzy Ficowski (1924—2006).
The first testimonies
collected among Roma
As a young student of sociology at the University of Warsaw,
Jerzy Ficowski saw the value of collecting testimonies about the
persecution of the Roma in the immediate postwar years. Soon,
on the run from the Security Service (Służba Bezpieczeństwa)
for his Home Army (Armia Krajowa) activities during the war,
he gained the opportunity to learn first-hand about Roma society. For almost two years starting in 1949, Ficowski roamed the
countryside of northwestern Poland with a camp of Polska Roma
to which Papusza belonged. Earlier research on Roma stereotyping and fragmentary in its approach, but his studies, based on
everyday socializing and interaction, were free from those flaws.
Ficowski was the first person to collect testimonies among Roma
and others on what had happened during the war.
In Cyganie na polskich drogach [Gypsies on Polish roads],
Ficowski summarized his experiences and observations of those
two years. Published in 1953, the book still makes excellent and
informative reading on the customs, beliefs, and lives of Polish
Roma in the late 1940s. It includes several of Papusza’s poems
along with a short biography of her. Unfortunately, the Romani
elders found the book highly provocative because of its description of Romani customs. Although Ficowski built the text on his
own observations, Papusza was hastily identified as the culprit.
This meant social death for Papusza and her husband, who stood
by her. Cyganie na polskich drogach was reissued several times,
and Ficowski continued his work and published several books on
the subject, in addition to numerous scientific articles and texts
written for the general public.5
The valuable testimonies gathered by Ficowski could have
provided much more information. Some issues important to
researchers working today are still veiled; maybe they would
To tell people outside about life inside the Roma group. This was as a betrayal.
Post-war photo, probably taken for an ID.
With her husband’s Dionizy’s harp.
have been clarified had he asked more questions. But he seldom did. Most of the testimonies seem to have been recorded
in a single take without the interviewee being interrupted,
which gives them a very vivid touch while to read, but leaves
one with questions. Of course, it was hard for Ficowski to foresee the value his material would have in the decades to come.
Nor was he a historian, nor trained in the art of interviewing, a
craft that would start to develop among historians in the 1970s.
Throughout his life, Professor Ficowski had the qualities of a
Renaissance man, and, in addition to his Romani-related research, was known for his poetry, children’s literature, lyrics to
popular songs, and his research on the Polish-Jewish writer and
painter Bruno Schulz, who was killed in the Drohobycz ghetto
in 1943.
A renewed interest
in Romani Studies
While the film Papusza certainly represents part of a growing interest in and awareness of Romani matters among the Polish and
international public, one should not overestimate its value as an
eye-opener to Romani history. Rather, it constitutes a fascinating
and beautiful story of a lifetime on the margins.
In 1984, Ficowski found that “Papusza does not bother the
Gypsies any more”. However, they still did not enjoy her works.
Given the amount of knowledge of Romani history that has been
lost, the professor maintained, it might well be that Papusza’s
name and poetry, with reference to her contemporaries, will be
Listen to the voices. They sing a song of shared sorrow.
Papusza and her son Tarzan.
remembered as an “embellishment and pride of all Gypsy culture”. He may well be right.
Thanks to the recent surge in interest in Romani culture — not
only in Poland — the wider international readership is now being
offered glimpses into Papusza’s lyric landscape, including a harrowing poem on the Volhynia events: Some sixty years after the
first release of her famous oeuvre “Tears of Blood”, it has been
translated into several languages and is once again being read
widely. Baltic Worlds is contributing to this new presentation of
her work by publishing the following poem, “How we Suffered
under the German Soldiers in Volhynia from 1943 to 1944”. ≈
Piotr Wawrzreniuk, senior lecturer at the School of Historical and
Contemporary Studies, Södertörn University,
and Director of Studies, Swedish Defence University.
1 Slawomir Kapralski, “Jak Romowie pamietaja?”, Studia Romologica
3/2010, 227.
2 “Papusza” means “doll” in the Romani language.
One of the four main Romani groups in Poland.
4 Kapralski, “Jak Romowie pamietaja?”, 224—226.
5 Jerzy Ficowski, Cyganie na polskich drogach [Gypsies on Polish Roads],
(Warsaw: Nisza, 2013) 6—8.
peer-reviewed essay
A Swedish Diplomat and His
on the
by Mose Apelblat
There are no worse or better nations. There are worse
and better governments. Nations don’t like wars. The
governments conduct politics that lead to wars; then,
they ask the nations to sacrifice.
I was an insignificant little man. My mission was important.
All nations under Hitler’s occupation suffered losses,
millions of victims. However, all the Jews were victims.
Let no nation, any government or church appropriate
this holy and cursed term. The Holocaust belongs to the
Jan Karski
started this study with the objective of finding Göran von
Otter’s missing report. The result of my modest effort to
clarify the whereabouts of his reporting will be described in
this article. The article also draws attention to the moral dilemmas that both Karski and von Otter must have faced, in very
different circumstances, when learning about the atrocities and
reporting about them in order to arouse their governments and
world opinion.
Göran von Otter was a Swedish diplomat with a baron’s title
(“friherre” in Swedish). His grandfather had been prime minister of Sweden. He did his military service in the Swedish navy,
graduated in law, and practiced a few years at a Swedish court
before joining the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During
the Second World War he served as legation3 secretary at the
Swedish legation in Berlin where he mainly worked with judicial
questions and the return to Sweden of Swedish Jews.4 After the
war he continued his career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
with different assignments at the ministry and abroad until his
retirement in 1973.
Von Otter happened to meet Kurt Gerstein, an SS officer who
had studied engineering and medicine and become department
head at the “Institute of Hygiene” of the Waffen SS at the central
SS headquarters.5 There, he soon was in charge of “disinfection”
and the delivery of poisonous gases. However, he was deeply
Christian with a moral conscience. After his sister-in-law had
died mysteriously at a mental hospital, he decided to expose the
Nazi extermination machinery and undertook to collect information from within. His wish was to convey the information to a
neutral country and to drop leaflets on Germany in the hope of
raising public opinion against the Nazi regime.
The two met accidentally on a train between Warsaw and Berlin, presumably on the night between the 20th and 21st of August
1942. Von Otter was returning to Berlin after having met some
arrested Swedish businessmen in Warsaw. Gerstein was returning
from the extermination camp Bełżec, where he had witnessed
mass killings of Jews by gas, which had completely devastated
him. Unable to rest, he had to tell someone about his feelings. He
noticed that von Otter had lit a cigarette with a Swedish match and
turned to him. A person from neutral Sweden, a diplomat as it
turned out, was the perfect person to trust —and in whom to confide a secret to be published. Or so Gerstein must have thought.
Jan Karski and his reporting
At about the same time that von Otter met Gerstein, a Polish officer and diplomat named Jan Karski7 embarked on a “highly dangerous mission”8 in his occupied country. Born in Łodź in 1914, a
city known for its textile industry employing many Jewish work-
peer-reviewed essay
Göran von Otter.
Jan Karski, 1944.
ers,9 he trained as an officer in the Polish army, studied law and
not escape retribution”.13 In practice, however, not much was
international relations, and started to work at the Polish Ministry done to stop the genocide and save any surviving Jews. The war
of Foreign Affairs. At the outbreak of the war, he was mobilized
against the Nazi German armed forces took precedence, and any
and fought in eastern Poland. After the collapse of the war efmilitary action to bomb the extermination camps was seen as a
fort, he stayed behind and acted as a courier between the Polish
distraction and never carried out. The Allied powers might also
government in exile in London and the resistance movement
have been afraid that any military measures against the exterin Poland, and made secret trips between
mination of the Jews would have fueled the
Poland, France, and Britain. At one point he
Nazi propaganda that the Allies were fighting
was arrested and tortured by Gestapo but
for the Jews.14
The Polish officer Jan Karski (1914–
Karski did his utmost to inform British
managed to escape.
2000) risked his life reporting on the
and American leaders, including the British
In the summer of 1942, according to
Holocaust. A Swedish diplomat, Göran
foreign minister Anthony Eden and the US
Robert Wistrich,10 Karski toured the Warvon Otter (1907–1988), is also assumed
saw ghetto with Jewish guides11 and saw the
president Franklin Roosevelt, and to urge
to have reported in late 1942 on the
results of the deportations and the Nazi Gerthem to act. In October 1944, he published
Holocaust. But there seems to be no
man extermination policy at first hand. He
a book, Courier from Poland: The Story of a
trace of von Otter’s report.
also visited eastern Poland and scouted in
Secret State15 (republished in 2013), on the un12
During the war von Otter worked at the
derground Polish state in occupied Poland,
the vicinity of the Bełżec death camp. He
Swedish legation in Berlin. In 1942 he
identified Treblinka and Sobibór as places of
including information from his mission,
met an SS officer, Kurt Gerstein, who
mass extermination for Jews. In describing
which still makes painful reading.16
had witnessed killings by gas at the
what went on in Bełżec, he specifically menBełżec extermination camp. Gerstein
Wistrich writes that Karski encountered
tioned murder by poison gas.
joined the SS to oppose the Nazi
“a mixture of political hypocrisy, narrow naOn his return to London in November
regime from within and he asked von
tional self-interest and sheer indifference in
1942, Karski informed the Polish governthose Western political and military leaders
ment, which on December 10, 1942, formally Otter to report to his government on
the atrocities. At that time the official
who had the possibility of ameliorating the
appealed to the Allied governments to speak
policy1 in Sweden was to not anger Nazi
Jewish tragedy in a larger or smaller way.”17
out against the extermination of the Jews.
Germany by publishing reports on war
After the war, Karski settled in the US, where
This resulted a week later in an Allied deccrimes. There is much obscurity about
he became a professor of political science at
laration that condemned for the first time
von Otter’s report.
Georgetown University. For his outstanding
the Nazi “bestial policy of cold-blooded
Key words: Holocaust, international
deeds during the war he was awarded the
extermination” and threatened to “ensure
relations, WWII, diplomacy, Nazi Germany.
highest Polish civil and military decorations.
that those responsible for these crimes shall
Otter met Gerstein. This is a fact. But could he have saved him?
peer-reviewed essay
In 1982 Yad Vashem in Jerusalem recognized him as “Righteous
Among the Nations”, and in 1994 he was made an honorary
citizen of Israel. In 2012 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in the US.
It should be mentioned that Jan Karski and Göran von Otter
were not the only ones who, each in his or her own way, reported in the summer–autumn of 1942 on the Nazi German extermination machinery. The reports transferred by Gerhart Riegner,
the representative in Switzerland of the World Jewish Congress,
to the American administration are well known and have been
the subject of historical research.18 On the 1st of August 1942,
Riegner learned from a German industrialist that Hitler had
ordered the exterminations of the Jews. The use of gas as the instrument of murder was even specified.19
After a week of investigation and additional confirmation,
Riegner met with an American vice-consul on August 8, 1942.
The latter took him seriously and transferred a report on the
same day to the State Department, but there it was met with
“universal disbelief” and was not disseminated to all concerned.
Riegner did not give up but continued to meet American diplomats in Switzerland in September and October and to provide
them with more documents. The information given by Riegner
was finally released by the State Department on November 24,
1942. Riegner provided the US government “with its first specific
evidence of a German plan for the total extermination of the
Historians on von Otter
In December 1942, the Allied Powers were informed
about the mass extermination of Jews in occupied
The first historian who seems to have researched the whereabouts of von Otter’s report is Steven Koblik.20 In his book from
1987, he states that von Otter reported the meeting with Gerstein
to the deputy head of the Swedish legation in Berlin, Eric von
Post, and that the head of the legation, Arvid Richert, also heard
about the reporting on his return to the legation. However, what
was done with von Otter’s report has not been clarified. No
document has been found in Stockholm.21
According to Koblik, information was probably given orally
to a limited number of officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and not in such detail as Gerstein had intended. In an appendix
with documents, Koblik again states that, apparently, no written
report was sent to Stockholm. However, he doubts that von Otter
left no written documentation about his meeting with Gerstein,
as detailed information on the meeting appeared in an aidememoire in English of August 7, 1945, drafted by the Swedish
embassy in London.22
Ingvar Svanberg and Mattias Tydén,23 in a book published in
1997, also mention von Otter’s meeting with Gerstein. They share
Koblik’s opinion that it is still not clear what happened to von
Otter’s information and whether it reached Stockholm at all or
remained at the legation in Berlin. Unlike Koblik, however, they
discovered von Otter’s letter of July 23, 1945, to the Swedish embassy in London. The aide-memoire that Koblik mentioned was
obviously based on a letter from von Otter.
Tydén24 confirms that von Otter’s letter is the only document
(apart from the aide-memoire in English) that has been found
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hitherto in the archives of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This does not exclude the possibility that there could be
other documents that haven’t been found. If it turns out (see
below) that von Otter did report, at least orally, to top officials in
the ministry, the search should be directed to those officials for
any internal or private papers on their meeting with von Otter.
Such a search, however, is outside the scope of this paper.
Paul Levine discusses at more length what could have happened to von Otter’s missing report, and the importance of its
information, in his dissertation on the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Holocaust.25 He doesn’t exclude that a report
may exist, since not writing a report would have contravened
any standard reporting procedures. He also refers to interviews
by other authors with the head of the law department at the ministry, Gösta Engzell. Engzell claimed that he was informed about
the “Gerstein file” quite early, but he could have been mistaken.
The most recent, and probably final, account of Sweden during World War II is Klas Åmark’s book from 2011,26 the result of a
collective research program over several years. Despite its comprehensiveness, the book does not mention von Otter. According to the author,27 the importance of his reporting (whatever
happened to it), has been exaggerated in view of other reporting
that appeared in autumn 1942 from other sources and in Swedish
media. It appears that it was the Swedish embassy, rather than
the Swedish government, that was the main obstacle to the dissemination of von Otter’s information.
In 2012,28 the Swedish author and journalist Göran Rosenberg published a novel about his father, who was from Łodź. He
survived Auschwitz and arrived in Sweden after the war. The
book is partly non-fictional, as it is based on memories, private
correspondence, and public reports.29 In an interview, he mentioned von Otter’s report and concurred with the common view
in Sweden that the report had been misplaced somewhere in the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would explain why no attention was paid to it.
Von Otter’s testimonies
It is difficult to acknowledge that von Otter’s report was never
intended to reach the decision-makers in the ministry, and that
if it reached them in some form, it was deliberately ignored and
buried by them. However, that is what emerges from a reading of
testimonies given by Göran von Otter himself and by his daughter Birgitta von Otter. The testimonies were published in 1985
and 1991, respectively, but for some reason they were not taken
into account in the later historical research referred to above.
The Swedish journalist Omar Magnergård published30 in 1985
an anthology of 26 articles on Sweden during WWII, which had
appeared in the daily Svenska Dagbladet in 1984–1985. One of the
articles was an interview with Göran von Otter under the headline “Request to Swedish Diplomat”.
In the interview, von Otter revealed that he had carried a
burden since his meeting with Gerstein in August 1942 and that
he blamed himself for not doing enough. He appears to have had
a bad conscience for two reasons: for not having been able to
rescue Gerstein, who had been arrested as a war criminal, and
for failing to act sooner and to make a bigger fuss about what he
had been told.
Concerning his conscience with regard to Gerstein, he acted
by writing a letter dated the 23rd of July 1945 to Karl Gustav Lagerfelt, first secretary at the Swedish embassy in London, obviously
in the hope that the latter would transfer it to the Allied powers.
The letter has been found in the archives and is quoted in full in
the interview. The meeting between von Otter and Gerstein is
described in detail in the letter, as is the latter’s information on
the extermination he had witnessed in Bełżec. Von Otter also
mentions in the letter that he had checked or compared (“collated”) the information with a protestant clergyman and founder
of the Confessing Church, named Otto Dibelius.31
However, Gerstein died in prison on July 25, 1945, the same day
as Lagerfelt received von Otter’s letter. It is not clear whether he
committed suicide or was murdered by Nazi prisoners. Much
later, in 1981, von Otter would visit Gerstein’s widow, Elfriede
“For Göran, that train trip keeps living on,” Magnergård
writes. That very morning, on his return to Berlin, he started to
draft a report—a report, however, which has not been found and
may have been destroyed. To his disappointment, his superiors
at the legation—no names were mentioned in the interview —
told him to stop writing: “He had better report orally on what
he knew on his next journey home to Stockholm.” His journey
would be delayed by four months, during which time apparently
no report was made to the ministry.
But when von Otter finally reported to the ministry — in the
interview he does not mention to whom in the ministry — the
“superiors in the ministry received my account with an indifference which made me both disappointed and surprised.” “I still
blame myself for my omission to act quicker and to make more
noise about my information”, von Otter told Magnergård.32
To this, Magnergård added that, according to the history professor Wilhelm Carlgren, information about mass executions of
Jews can be found as early as in a handwritten letter from Juhlin
Dannfelt33 to the head of military intelligence Carlos Adlercreutz,
dated October 29, 1941. The source was a Swedish noncommissioned officer who had joined the SS. The letter had been read
by the head of the Swedish central command, ÖB Olof Thörnell,
and his deputy general, Samuel Åkerhielm, and been reported
to General Nils Björk, head of the operational department in the
central command.
However, no one in the higher military and political echelons
in Sweden had apparently paid much attention to this report,
and von Otter’s presumably more detailed (though oral) and
shocking report met the same fate. The earlier report could
possibly have been dismissed as unverified information on war
crimes in the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union,
but von Otter’s report was much worse, as it told about systematic killings of Jewish civilians—men, women, and children—by
gas, with the source a German “insider”.
What is missing in Magnergård’s unique interview with von
Otter is one question: Why didn’t you try more to disseminate
Knowing is a responsibility. To tell or not to tell is the question.
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Kurt Gerstein.
the information? Luckily, some answers to this unasked question
can be found in Birgitta von Otter’s book from 1991.34 The book
is mainly an anthology of articles previously published in Swedish media, dailies, magazines, and radio, but with two chapters
added at the end, about the Swedish legation in Berlin during the
war and her father’s meeting with Gerstein.
As a child, between the ages of 2 and 5 years, Birgitta von Otter
lived in Berlin, where her father had been moved in November
1939 after having served shorter periods at the legations in Vienna,
Budapest (where Birgitta was born), and London. He was second
legation secretary, and in 1942 became first legation secretary. She
tells us that about 60 to 70 people worked at the legation in Berlin.
On November 22,1943, the building was totally destroyed in an Allied bomb attack. No Swedish casualties were reported. In the autumn of 1944, the family was relocated home to Stockholm, where
they lived until the end of the war. In May 1945 her father moved
with the family to a new post in Helsinki, Finland.
According to Birgitta von Otter, only two persons at the legation knew of her father’s meeting with Gerstein: the ambassador
himself, Arvid Richert, and his deputy, legation counselor Eric
von Post. The reason for some kind of secrecy at the legation was
that the staff feared that a German spy was working there, namely Richter’s own secretary, who was married to a German Nazi. It
was confirmed after the war that she had been spying.35 Richert
himself is described by Birgitta von Otter as having had to walk a
tightrope not to antagonize the Germans, who often were angry
at the alleged anti-German tone in Swedish media.
In the current situation it’s better to be careful, and it
seems to me that it’s really desirable that several of our
newspapers should adopt a more dignified tone, and
a correct and less wishful treatment of the news and a
less transparent assumption that Germany will finally
lose the war.36
Gerhart Riegner, probably at the meeting of the
World Jewish Congress in Montreux, Switzerland.
Birgitta von Otter obviously felt that her father had been falsely
accused of lying when he had told researchers, such as Koblik, that he never had written a report about his meeting with
Gerstein. Her father didn’t talk very much about what had happened, and she remembers only one occasion when he told
the children about it, or rather replied to their questions. This
seemed to have happened around 1970. She also refers to some
other interviews her father gave to foreign media and researchers (some of which she found on tape in her parents’ home).
She does not exclude the possibility that her father might
have confused what really happened with what he learned
afterwards. She hardly mentions anything about her father’s
personality and opinions, but stresses the similarities between
her father and Gerstein. Von Otter was 35 and Gerstein 37 years
old when they met, each had two children, and they were both
184 cm tall. Birgitta von Otter dwells more on Gerstein and his
upbringing and personality and describes him as a person who
took his Christian faith seriously. She quotes letters between
Gerstein and his father that indicate the existence of a moral
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Göran von Otter, on the other hand, remains a rather unknown figure to people outside his family. He lived and passed
away before the Internet era, and if he ever wrote anything, besides formal reports and documents in his diplomatic service, it
cannot be found on the web.37 If he did write about his work, his
family does not know of any papers or letters left behind which
could help us to understand him and his meeting with Gerstein.38 According to Birgitta von Otter, her father never wrote
a report about his meeting with Gerstein. He was instructed by
Richert, the head of legation, to report orally at his next meeting
at the ministry in Stockholm. Why?
Two possible explanations are given by Birgitta von Otter.
First, the Swedish legation is said to have already known about
the persecution of Jews, thanks to information that its military
attaché had received from oppositional German officers. Furthermore, the Swedish consul in Stettin, Yngve Vendel, had, just
a few days before von Otter returned to the legation after his
train journey, reported “about the same things, although not
in such detail”.39 Vendel’s report was sent to the ministry with a
cover letter signed by Eric von Post on August 22, 1942. Whether
this is convincing or a justifiable reason will be discussed in the
next section.
However, Birgitta von Otter also quotes her father as stating
that the existence of previous information was an acceptable
explanation (i.e., for the order to stop writing the report that
he had started writing on his return), although he was aware
that Vendel did not report on “details such as that people were
forced in naked and that Ukrainian guards were used to extract
the gassed people”. Instead, von Otter reported orally to the
ministry as he had been instructed to do, namely, to the head of
the political department of the ministry, Staffan Söderblom.40
Von Otter also learned that Söderblom had reported on their
meeting to other civil servants in the hierarchy of the ministry,
Deputy Minister Erik Boheman and Foreign Affairs Counselor
Gösta Engzell.41
Second, it appears that von Otter himself did not believe in the
possibility of influencing Nazi Germany’s extermination policy,
and in this he obviously shared Richert’s opinion. He met Gerstein about half a year later in Berlin. Gerstein was eager to know
what von Otter had done to inform the Swedish government.
Von Otter told Gerstein (according to an interview in 1966)42 that
he had informed his superiors but that he was not optimistic
about any concrete results. In another interview, from 1963, he
said: “I don’t believe that any country or government could have
influenced Hitler, who had his own ideas on how Europe should
be formed after the war. In this Europe there was no place at
all for the Jews, and he was fully determined to implement his
Reporting in August 1942
The absence of a written report on von Otter’s information from
the Swedish legation in Berlin to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in
Stockholm can be contrasted with the reports that actually were
sent from the legation during the relevant period in 1942.44 It
turns out that there was a flow of daily reports from the legation
on a diversity of issues, as if the main occupation of the legation
was to keep the ministry constantly updated. Among other dispatches, the legation drafted press reviews on news in German
media and German reactions to news in Swedish media. The
legation also reported on meetings with German officials or visits
by Swedish officials or personalities to Germany, for example,
the visit in Berlin in June 1942 of the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin (reported on June 11, 1942).
The archive files also include reporting from the ministry to the
legation, such as the visit in August to the ministry by the German
ambassador in Stockholm, complaining about the publication
in Swedish media about Norwegian King Haakon’s 70th birthday,
which was considered propaganda against Nazi Germany (reported on August 8, 1942). Another report from the ministry in August
1942 is a translation of a pro-German article from the Swedish consulate in Prague (dated August 17, 1942). A political report from the
legation, dated August 21, 1942, deals with the German occupation
in Europe, but without mentioning anything about the fate of the
Jews. The report refers to an “easing of tension” in the relations
between Nazi Germany and Sweden.
The most dramatic report from August 1942 is no doubt the
one drafted by the Swedish consul in Stettin, Yngve Vendel. The
report was signed by him on August 8, 1942, and sent on the 22nd
of the same month to R. Kumlin, a head of department at the
ministry in Stockholm, with a cover letter signed by the legation
secretary Eric von Post. The report was registered by the ministry on August 24, 1942, and distributed internally and to other
legations and to the military command. Noteworthy is that the
report also reached Swedish prime minister Per Albin Hansson,
as his initials appear on the cover letter.
This arrangement appears to be typical of the correspondence
between the legation and the ministry. Reports were drafted by
different people at the legation and accompanied by cover letters
that summarized their content or drew attention to the main
points in the reports. In this case von Post writes that the report
is based on Vendel’s impressions from talks with different people
during a journey he made in “eastern Germany” with the permission of Richert.
Two pages of Vendel’s seven-page report deal with a conflict
between Heinrich Himmler and the former minister of food and
agriculture, Richard Walther Darré, and this is highlighted and
constitutes the main part in the cover letter. A sentence at the end of
the cover letter states that “Vendel reports about the conditions in
the General Governorate (Poland under Nazi German occupation),
statements by Ribbentrop, and conditions on the large landed estates etc.”45 There is no word about any persecutions of Jews in the
cover letter. Whatever information the report contained about the
situation of the Jews was easy to overlook or underestimate.
The situation of the Jewish population is mentioned twice in
the report. On page 3, Vendel refers to the food conditions in the
general governorate. According to his source, it is often heard that
“Die Juden haben alles” (The Jews have everything). Vendel is critical of this statement and is of the opinion that it is only true of a
small number of “affluent Jews in the Warsaw ghetto”. He corrects
Was the only reason for Sweden to ignore the truth that they were afraid of Nazi Germany?
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Photo: German Federal Archive
Photo: German Federal Archive
The German Order Police from Orpo descending to
the cellars on a “Jew-hunt”, Lublin, December 1940.
the statement to “durch die Juden kan man noch alles haben, die
Juden beschaffen alles” (through the Jews you can get everything;
the Jews can supply everything) which must have been a gross exaggeration and a prejudice.46
The next page in his report contains a paragraph with information of such a nature that “it hardly can be rendered in writing”.
Vendel therefore “limit[s myself ] to some brief information”. He
mentions that the treatment of the Jews differs in different places,
depending on whether there are ghettos or not. However, “the
intention is gradually to exterminate them”. The figure of the
Jews already killed in Lublin is estimated at 40,000. In particular,
people over the age of 50 and children under the age of 10 are being killed. He writes that in one town (not named) the Jews were
assembled to be “disinfected” but in reality they were gassed
to death and buried in mass graves. He is of the opinion that his
source is trustworthy and that there “cannot be the slightest
doubt about the veracity of his information”.
This is all that is said about the Jewish situation. It is clear that
there was a huge difference between Vendel’s brief information
above and the detailed information von Otter received from
Gerstein during a whole night of talking in the train between
Warsaw and Berlin. Von Otter himself indicated in his letter to
Lagerfelt at the Swedish embassy in London the detailed account
he received of the extermination machinery in Bełżec. Lagerfelt
repeated the account, without mentioning von Otter’s name,
in his aide-memoire and added that his source had been shown
“documents, identification cards and orders from the commandant of the camp for the delivery of hydrocyanic acid”.47
Furthermore, Gerstein himself wrote a lengthy report during
his imprisonment at the end of the war.48 It is likely that von Otter received more or less the same information from him when
they met. It is therefore difficult to understand how Vendel’s
brief report could have motivated the legation to suppress von
Otter’s reporting as superfluous.
Photo: German Federal Archive
Jewish women in occupied Lublin, September 1939.
Jewish men are transported from the Warsaw
Ghetto by Wehrmacht soldiers, Poland, 1941.
As emerges from the above, Göran von Otter did explain why he did
not report in writing. According to Birgitta von Otter, he received
instructions from his superiors not to write a report. Birgitta von
Otter is a close relative and may be biased, but there is no reason to
doubt her account on this point. It is also possible that Göran von
Otter was of the opinion that a written report would not have made
any difference. This could explain his inaction in 1942—which he
later regretted—but could also be an ex-post justification.
The result, however, might have been the same, considering the overall Swedish policy at that time, when Nazi Germany
was at the height of its power, of appeasing the Nazi regime and
avoiding doing anything that could anger it, even invoking a variety of measures to suppress press freedom in Sweden.49 It is also
striking that some people in Sweden — including some among
the clergy, the military, and the government — who received reports on the Holocaust, shared anti-Semitic stereotypes.50 If they
supported Nazi Germany or believed in its victory, they were less
inclined to arouse any public opinion or issue any government
statements against the ongoing genocide of the Jewish people.
peer-reviewed essay
It is, of course, impossible to know what would have happened if a written report had been delivered by von Otter.51
However, in the author’s opinion, it cannot be dismissed that
a written report, made public by the Swedish government or
transferred secretly to the Allied powers, could have added more
credibility to the other reports from the same period (forming
a “critical mass”) and pressed the US and Britain to act more
forcibly. It might have induced the Allied powers to act sooner
to condemn Nazi Germany and to intervene to stop the daily killings. A written report could also have been studied and revived
later by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs — after all, the
horrors of the Holocaust had become fully known only after the
liberation of the camps—and prompted the Swedish government
to do more by way of rescue operations towards the end of the
war when it no longer had to fear any Nazi German reprisals.52
Von Otter may have felt that he had betrayed Gerstein, who,
with his own life in danger, had asked him to immediately transfer the information to his own Swedish government and through
it to the Allied powers. He did not manage to save Gerstein’s life
because he seems to have acted too late and in an indirect way.
Gerstein turned himself in to the French forces on April 21, 1945,
and was sent to a prison in Paris towards the end of May. We cannot know if and when von Otter learned about Gerstein’s imprisonment and trial. Did he actively try to find out his whereabouts?
The newspaper France-Soir reported about his trial on July 5,
1945. Only on July 23, 1945, did von Otter write his letter to the
Swedish legation in London.53
As mentioned in the beginning, the role of different civil
servants at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is outside the
scope of this study. However, the role of the person whom von
Otter met in Stockholm, the head of the political department,
Staffan Söderblom, seems at first glance questionable.54 The
head of the legation in Berlin, Arvid Richert, was biased in his
attitude towards Nazi Germany and sometimes pursued his own
agenda. Both Richert and his deputy, von Post, seem to have
opposed any public Swedish appeals or the issuance of Swedish
protective passports for the Jews even in February–March 1945.55
When instructing von Otter not to finish his written report,
Richert may have abused his power. If Richert was afraid that a
written report might have been discovered by the Germans, he
should, of course, have instructed von Otter to travel immediately to Stockholm to report. A Swedish report would have supported other reports from this time and could not have been easily
dismissed by the Allied powers. Richert was probably not aware
of these other reports, but in suppressing von Otter’s report he
deliberately took a decision that showed his attitude towards reporting on the Nazi German crimes against humanity.
To understand retrospectively von Otter and his reporting, one
must take into account the environment at the legation in Berlin
and the ministry in Stockholm during the war. It appears that
it was influenced by pro-German feelings — dating from long
before the outbreak of World War II — and a fear of antagonizing
Nazi Germany, at least when it looked as if Germany would win
the war.56 Von Otter was a man with a conscience — this is proven
by his attempt to save Gerstein — but it also appears that, if there
was any conflict between conscience and career he may have
given priority to his career. It is tragic that he not only did not
succeed in transmitting Gerstein’s information to the ministry
in an effective way, or make it public in some other way, but also
failed to save the life of Gerstein, the person he obviously felt an
obligation to save.
However, it would be unfair to compare von Otter with Karski. Jan Karski was a Polish officer who fought for his own country under occupation by Nazi Germany and who felt a strong
empathy for his persecuted people, irrespective of religion.
Karski was prepared to risk his own life by entering ghettos and
camps in disguise to collect firsthand information on the ongoing extermination, and then to secretly travel to Britain to inform
the Polish government in exile and the Allied powers. Karski was
both an eyewitness and an emissary on behalf of the Polish government in exile.
Von Otter did not have to risk his life and, luckily, hardly anyone did in the Swedish legation or the ministry. He happened
by chance to receive information from a trustworthy witness
who begged him to forward it to the Swedish government. After
having met Gerstein on the train, he met the protestant clergyman Dibelius in Berlin to verify the information. We will never
know what Dibelius told him, but he might have been the wrong
person to ask for advice. Von Otter was probably not aware that
Dibelius was an anti-Semite and that the information may have
fallen on deaf ears.57 He managed more or less to carry out the
mission—which he had not chosen himself—but in a way that did
not leave any trace in Sweden and did not have any impact whatsoever on the course of events. The responsibility for the latter,
however, falls on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both von Otter
and Karski met with indifference and disbelief in their reporting.
One can speculate as to whether another person in the same
situation would have moved heaven and earth to disseminate
the information, even though it might have caused him or her
discomfort. Von Otter was a civil servant of relatively low rank
at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the same background
as most people in the ministry at that time, and did as he was
instructed by his superiors, who all expected that Nazi Germany
would be victorious. On the other hand, von Otter belonged to a
distinguished noble family. Possibly, he could have tried harder
to deliver a written report on Gerstein’s shocking information,
especially as he had taken some trouble to verify who Gerstein
was. It cannot be totally excluded that such a report does exist
Nonetheless, the meeting with Gerstein made a strong impression on him, which explains why he remembered it years
later. It was not his fault that his report—which according to him
was presented orally—did not attract the interest of his superiors
at the ministry. This was rather the result of inconsistent reporting procedures at the ministry and the inability on the part of
von Otter’s superiors to distinguish between important and less
important reporting. Their judgment can be questioned, in particular, that of Staffan Söderblom, who happened to be head of
There were other reports. Why are they not missing if no one wanted to know?
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the political department of the ministry at the time and who only
a few years later would mislead his own ministry and fail in the
Wallenberg affair.58 ≈
Mose Apelblat, former official at the European Commission.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Ms. Anne Sofie von Otter and
Ms. Birgitta von Otter. I am also thankful to Professor Klas Åmark and
Professor Mattias Tydén and to Ms. Karolina Famulska-Ciesielska at
the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. Special thanks go to the
Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.
Deportation of 10,000 Polish Jews to Treblinka during the liquidation of the ghetto in Siedlce beginning
August 23, 1942.
1Although no prior censorship was applied, news about alleged war crimes
and atrocities was considered “cruelty propaganda” and suppressed in
various legal ways. Newspapers may also have applied self-censorship.
See Klas Åmark, ed., Att bo granne med ondskan: Sveriges förhållande
till Nazismen, Nazityskland och Förintelsen [To be neighbors with
evil: Sweden’s relation to Nazism, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust]
(Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2011), ch. 6, “Tryckfrihet and
presspolitik i andra världskrigets skugga” [Freedom of expression and
press policy in the shadow of WWII].
2 Quotation from Maciej Sadowski, Jan Karski Photobiography (Warszawa:
VEDA, 2014).
3 The Swedish diplomatic representation in Berlin before and during
the Second World War was called a legation, which was lower than an
embassy. After the war it was upgraded to embassy.
4 Birgitta von Otter, Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar [Umbilical cords’ and
Fools Mirrors] (Stockholm: Alba, 1991), 268. The author does not give any
more details about this task.
Jews being loaded onto trains to Treblinka at the
Warsaw Ghetto’s Umschlagplatz, 1942.
5 Ibid., 280 (excerp from Gerstein’s own account).
6 See papers from the international conference in Zamość in November
2013, “Jan Karski: Witness, Emissary, Man”, http://www.jpost.com/
7 He was born Jan Kozielewski. During the war he adopted Karski as his
nom de guerre and became known to the world by this name.
8 Robert Wistrich, Hitler and the Holocaust (London: Weidenfeld &
Nicholson, 2001), 213.
9 Jan Karski had Jewish friends at school in Łodź and Jewish teachers at
the university in Lvov. After the war, in 1965, he married Pola Nirénska, a
choreographer and dancer of Polish–Jewish origin. About one third of the
670,000 inhabitants in Łodź before the war were Jews. Almost immediately
after the Nazi German occupation, a ghetto was established in Łodź. When
the ghetto was liquidated in August 1944, 200,000 Jews had been killed.
10 Wistrich, Hitler, 213—214.
11 Marian Marek Drozdowski, Jan Karski Kozielewski, 1914—2000:
The Emissary who Sought Help from the Allied Powers for the Polish
Underground State and Holocaust Victims (Warsaw: Oficyna Wydawnicza
ASPRA, 2014), ch. 8.
12 The two persons whom Karski met in Warsaw have been identified as
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leaders of the Jewish resistance organization, one representing the Zionist
organizations and the other the Jewish socialist organization Bund. In
their desperation they asked Karski to convey to the allied powers that
they should bomb German cities without mercy and drop leaflets telling
the Germans about the fate of the Jews in Poland, threatening them that
this would also happen to the Germans during and after the war. They
thought that this was the only way to put an end to the Nazi-German
atrocities. According to Nir Rakovski, Karski was not taken to Bełżec but
to a transit camp in Izbica Lubelska, halfway between Lublin and Bełżec,
where he witnessed awful scenes. See Jan Karski, Courier from Poland:
The Story of a Secret State, French to Hebrew trans. Nir Rakovski (Tel Aviv:
Sifrei Aliyat Hagag, 2014), 374 and 390.
13 T
he Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, a statement issued
on December 17, 1942, by the American and British governments on behalf
of the Allied powers.
14 According to Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and
Stalin (London: Vintage Books, 2011), 213—217, when the invasion of
the Soviet Union did not go as planned, Hitler changed strategy and
the extermination of the Jews became his main wartime policy. For a
comprehensive analysis of what the Allied powers knew and the possible
reasons for not understanding and not acting, see Daniel Tilles, Passive
Accomplices or Helpless Bystanders? British and American Responses to the
Holocaust, 1941—1945 (Craków: Galicia Jewish Museum, 2008) 110—135.
15 Jan Karski, Courier from Poland: The Story of a Secret State (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1944).
16 Two of the last chapters in his book describe his secret visits to the
Warsaw ghetto and the transit camp Izbica Lubelska in vivid and terrifying
language. What he witnessed defies human comprehension.
17 Wistrich, Hitler, 214.
18 Arthur Morse, While Six Millions Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy
(New York: Random House, 1968), 3—36.
19 According to Wistrich (Hitler, 144), Riegner had already on March 3,
1942, sent a “remarkably detailed report on the fate of the Jews in Poland
and the rest of Europe”, which reached the Vatican through the papal
nuncio in Bern. It spoke of “more than a million Jews exterminated by the
Germans”, pointing out that the old, the sick, and women and children
were being systematically deported, a measure that clearly could not have
been implemented for the purposes of forced labor.
20 Steven Koblik, Om vi teg, skulle stenarna ropa: Sverige och judeproblemet,
1933—1945 [The Stones Cry Out: Sweden’s Response to the Persecution of
the Jews, 1933—1945], Swedish trans. Erik Frykman (Stockholm: Norstedts
Förlag, 1987), 66, 67, 148—150, 266.
21 As is mentioned later on in the study, only Richert and von Post knew
about von Otter’s meeting with Gerstein. Von Post normally attached
cover letters to the reports drafted by the embassy staff.
22 The aide-memoire is based on a letter dated July 23, 1942, from von Otter
to Lagerfelt, first secretary at the embassy in London (see Koblik, Stones
Cry Out, 266—267). Von Otter’s letter, although drafted almost three years
after his meeting with Gerstein, gives quite a detailed account of the
meeting; see excerpt in Birgitta von Otter, Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar,
271. The letter is included in extenso in Omar Magnergård’s interview
with Göran von Otter, I andra världskrigets skugga. Birgitta von Otter also
quotes an interview on tape with her father, made in the beginning of the
1980s when he was well over 70 years old, where her father reproduces,
in detail, what Gerstein had told him about the killing of the Jews in death
chambers using exhaust gas from trucks (Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar,
273). This information was probably not known to Koblik.
23 Ingvar Svanberg and Mattias Tydén, Sverige och Förintelsen: Debatt
och dokument om Europas judar 1933—1945 [Sweden and the Holocaust:
debate and documents on the Jews of Europe 1933—1945] (Stockholm:
Arena,1997), 38, 236—237. The authors give a detailed overview of the
reporting on the Holocaust in Swedish newspapers, with extensive
extracts from the articles. The persecutions and mass murders of the Jews
in Nazi-occupied countries were known in Sweden as early as 1942. What
was less known, before 1943, was how the killings were carried out.
24 Clarification by e-mail of June 9, 2013, from Tydén to the writer.
25 Paul A. Levine, From Indifference to Activism: Swedish Diplomacy and the
Holocaust (Uppsala: Uppsala University, 1996), 123.
26 Åmark, Granne med ondskan.
27Clarification in e-mail of June 17, 2013, from Åmark to the writer.
28Göran Rosenberg, Ett kort uppehåll på vägen från Auschwitz [A brief stop
on the way from Auschwitz] (Falun: Bonnier, 2012).
29 At about the same time as von Otter met Gerstein, “between 3 and 12
September 1942, 15,859 children, sick and elderly people from the ghetto
in Łodź had been killed in gas vans in Chelmo”(Rosenberg, Kort uppehåll,
30 Magnergård, Skugga.
31 Gerstein also disclosed his information to Dibelius, who, according to
Birgitta von Otter (Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar, 271), conveyed it to the
Swedish archbishop Erling Eidem. Regarding Dibelius and the church
in Germany, see Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners:
Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966),
[references to 1997 paperback ed.], 108—114. According to Goldhagen,
Dibelius had described himself as an anti-Semite even before Hitler came
to power and had expressed the logic of the reigning eliminationalist
anti-Semitism. According to Åmark (Granne med ondskan, 330, 334—336),
Eidem’s activity with regard to Nazi Germany and the persecutions of
the Jews is disputed. Koblik, who devotes a whole chapter in his book to
Eidem and the Swedish organization for the religious conversion of Jews
(SIM, Svenska Israelmissionen), paints a more detailed picture of Eidem’s
role, but reaches the same conclusion: He did not act on the information
he received from Dibelius among others because he was influenced by
the Swedish government, which considered information about the Nazi
German extermination campaign a “potential security risk” against
Swedish interests and relations with Nazi Germany (Koblik, Stones Cry
Out,106). When he refused to issue an appeal for the Hungarian Jews, he
first asked the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs whether it would be the
correct thing to do. The reply was affirmative (Ibid., 112). This happened
as late as July 1944, when it was only a matter of time before Nazi Germany
would be defeated, and Sweden had little to fear from its reaction.
32 Magnergård, Skugga.
33 Curt Juhlin Dannfelt was military attaché at the Swedish legation in
Berlin during the whole Nazi period (1933—1945) and was considered
a competent and reliable person. However, the Swedish security or
intelligence service reported to the government only at its own discretion
(Koblik, Stones Cry Out, 147). An investigation by the security service
during the war showed that up to 10% of the officer corps were suspected
of being Nazis or pro-German (Åmark, Granne med ondskan, 298).
Though a small minority, it was more than in the general population. The
pro-German “National Sweden—Germany Society” had many officers
among its members, some of them with high rank. The commander of
the defense forces, Olof Thörnell, had himself congratulated Hitler on his
50th birthday. Åmark (Granne med ondskan, 300) writes that a general,
Samuel Åkerhielm, had been compromised because of (presumably)
pro-German statements. Both Olof Thörnell and his successor Helge Jung
favored a Swedish military intervention on the side of Finland against the
Soviet Union. (This would effectively have put Sweden on Nazi Germany’s
side and could have been a secondary motive among pro-German officers.
Author’s comment.)
34 Von Otter, Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar.
peer-reviewed essay
35 Ibid., 258.
36 Ibid., 259, letter by Richert on September 2, 1942, to the ministry. Richert
is characterized by Åmark as one who staunchly advocated that Sweden
should conduct a friendly and positive policy towards Nazi Germany to
secure its role in a Nazi-dominated Europe after the war (Åmark, Granne
med ondskan, 101, 108).
37 Judging from von Otter’s letter to Lagerfelt, he was a good writer, and his
Swedish still reads well and is easy to understand.
38 E-mail of August 22, 2013, from Ann Sofie von Otter to the author of this
39 Von Otter, Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar, 274.
40 Staffan Söderblom, the son of Nathan Söderblom (Sweden’s most famous
archbishop before the war), was head of the political department during
1938—1944. During 1944—1946 he was Swedish envoy (ambassador) to
Moscow, where he dealt with the Raoul Wallenberg affair. An official
Swedish commission (SOU 2003:18) on the Wallenberg affair and its
management by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was very critical
of Söderblom’s reporting and handling of the affair. It appears that his
policy was to do anything to avoid antagonizing the Soviet government.
See Ett diplomatiskt misslyckande: Fallet Raoul Wallenberg och den svenska
utrikesledningen [A diplomatic failure: The case of Raoul Wallenberg
and the Swedish foreign authorities], SOU 2003:18, 151—161, http://www.
regeringen.se/sb/d/108/a/1455. In the report Söderblom’s reporting
from Moscow is described as whitewashing. A colleague describes his
management of the political department in Stockholm as a dictatorship.
In 1954 Söderblom was put on leave for personal reasons. Birgitta von
Otter has drawn my attention to an interview with her father in Paris
in 1981 by Gitta Sereny, according to which Staffan Söderblom told
Göran von Otter, at their meeting, to forget everything and wished him
a pleasant vacation. See Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth,
(London: Vintage Books, 1995), 355—359.
41 Gösta Engzell was head of the legal department of the ministry during
the war. After the war he told authors who interviewed him that he had
been informed about Gerstein much earlier. For an evaluation of his
role as administrative rescuer in a situation of moral ambiguity, see also
Paul Levine’s paper “Teaching the Hero in Holocaust History: The Case
of Raoul Wallenberg and Gösta Engzell”, October 14, 1999, http://www.
42 Von Otter, Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar, 286.
43 Ibid., 286—287.
44 The correspondence from and to the embassy during the months June—
September 1942, is in the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet) in
Stockholm. The documents referred to in the text can be found in dossiers
HP 1 Ct vol. 321, 322, 323, 324, 325 (UD 1920 dossier system).
45 Vendel, P.M. (Promemoria/Memorandum), dated Berlin, August 22, 1942,
quotation from cover letter (Swedish National Archives).
46 Vendel obviously never entered the Warsaw ghetto, as Karski did. If he
had, he would not have written as he did. From autumn 1940 to July 1942,
about 92,000 Warsaw Jews died of starvation and disease. (Karski, Courier
from Poland). In July 1942, the first deportations to the extermination
camp Treblinka started. By September 1942, about 300,000 Jews had been
murdered. After two months of killings in the ghetto and deportations to
Treblinka perhaps 60,000 Jews remained in the ghetto. See also Snyder,
Bloodland), 263—269 on the deportations to Treblinka and 280—292 on the
uprising in the ghetto.
47 Koblik, Stones Cry Out, 267.
48 Von Otter, Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar, 291—297.
49 Åmark, Granne med ondskan, chap. 6—7.
50 Ibid., ch. 11. It is noteworthy that Söderblom, in one of his reports from
Moscow, describes the purging of Jews in the administration as a means of
avoiding the reoccurrence of anti-Semitism in the country (SOU 2003:18,
154). See also Åmark, Granne med ondskan, 368, on the influence of antiSemitism in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
51 Daniel Tilles is skeptical as to whether an additional report would have
had any effect in inducing a firmer response from the US or UK (e-mail
of January 28, 2015, from Tilles to the author). According to Tilles,
both countries already had plenty of information; the problem was
(a) the collation and analysis of that information, but also, and more
importantly,(b) the lack of willingness to act on the information (for
various reasons). Klas Åmark shares the assessment (e-mail of December
9, 2013, to the author) that it was the aggregated reporting on the
Holocaust that influenced the Allied powers during the war, and that it is
not very likely that their willingness would have been affected by a written
report by von Otter directly after his meeting with Gerstein.
52 Koblik, Stones Cry Out, 157—158.
53 In his aide-memoire of August 7, 1945, Lagerfelt does not mention von
Otter by name but refers to a “member of a neutral embassy in Berlin”.
On August 14, 1945, Lagerfelt informed von Otter about his aide-memoire
and pointed out that von Otter’s name was not indicated (von Otter,
Navelsträngar och Narrspeglar, 300).
54 According to Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the
Truth About Hitler’s “Final Solution” (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980), 65—67
(reference is to the German translation in paperback, 1982), Söderblom
said about von Otter’s report: “We thought that it was too risky to
transfer information from one belligerent party to another.” He is also
said to have remarked that many rumors were floating around during
that time. Laqueur wrote that Söderblom’s argument could hardly be
taken seriously, since there were, of course, different means and ways
to forward the news without implicating the Swedish government as the
55 Koblik, Stones Cry Out, 255—257.
56 The role of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not been studied
in detail by the author of this article. The ministry could have asked
von Otter to write a report after hearing him, but evidently did not.
Åmark (Granne med ondskan, 536) mentions that the head of the legal
department at the ministry, Gösta Engzell (who, according to Göran
von Otter’s testimony, had been informed by Söderblom about his
meeting with Gerstein), was engaged in the Swedish activities at the end
of November 1942 to rescue Norwegian Jews. Von Otter’s meeting with
Söderblom took place around January 1943, so any information from that
meeting could not have influenced Engzell (unless he had known about
the information much earlier). Altogether, 1100 Jews fled from Norway to
Sweden with the support of the Norwegian underground movement. In
October 1943 the majority of the Danish Jews (7900 persons, according
to Åmark, Granne med ondskan, 538) were rescued by boat to Sweden.
However, the action came too late for the 770 Norwegian Jews who had
been deported of whom the majority were murdered in Auschwitz.
Sweden felt a special responsibility for the Jewish citizens in a neigboring
Nordic country and for Jews with a connection to Sweden. For a detailed
overview of the reporting and protests in Sweden against the deportation
of the Jews in Norway, see Svanberg and Tydén, Sverige och Förintelsen,
ch. 12.
57 See note 31.
58 See Ingrid Carlberg’s article, “Raoul Wallenberg: Sveriges svek”, Dagens
Nyheter, January 17, 2015, http://www.dn.se/nyheter/sverige/sverigessvek/. She describes the handling of the disappearance of Wallenberg
as a Swedish betrayal and diplomatic failure, in which the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs failed to act on information and uncritically accepted
disinformation. A key person was Staffan Söderblom, the envoy in
Moscow, who in his meetings with the Soviet authorities accepted their
allegation that Wallenberg had fallen victim to an accident.
peer-reviewed essay
The return of kin-state
politics in Europe
by Kjetil Duvold illustration Karin Sunvisson
he relationship between ethnic homelands, cowhile contemporary Hungary must be classified as a “normal”
nationals in neighboring states, and host countries,
nation-state within the framework of the European Union, Rusa triangular relationship referred to here as kin-state
sia seems bent on restoring and reinforcing the ties that made
relations, tends to be complex and often fraught
up the empire of the Soviet Union. Finally, while Hungary hase
with instability. Kin-state relations, which for a long time were
come up with relatively well-defined instruments to interact
a somewhat neglected topic in the literature on nationalism,
with Magyars in other states, Russia has been inconsistent and
became highly explosive with the breakup of the Soviet Union
far from transparent in its handling of Russians in former Soviet
and Yugoslavia. Moreover, these relations raise a range of
republics. Even if they differ in their approaches, Hungary and
questions that cannot necessarily be dealt with smoothly
Russia, however, are similar in the sense that they have taken
within the prevailing European notions of minority protecvery active measures to shape and strengthen the ties between
the “homeland” and the external minority. On the other hand,
In this article I will examine two distinct cases of kin-state
both countries have engaged in kin-state politics without the
relations, namely those of Russia and Hungary. Today there are
direct use of violence. Russia, however, abandoned this position
approximately 25 million Russians living in states neighboring
in 2014, with the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern
Russia and some three million Magyars living in states around
Hungary. At 23 percent of Hungary’s population versus 18 percent of Russia’s, the
Two distinct cases of kin-state relations are
Hungarian diaspora is relatively speaking
examined: that of Russians living in states
The phenomenon “kin-state relations” is
larger than the Russian. But as the heir to
neighboring Russia and that of Magyars living
rather straightforward: ethnic boundaries
the Soviet Union, Russia’s case is clearly
in states around Hungary. The role of kin-state
rarely coincide perfectly with state bormore complex and volatile than Hungaders, and the presence of minorities across
ry’s. Contemporary Hungary is a compar- relations in Europe is studied from a historical
the border has caused tensions between
atively small country within NATO and the perspective and, with reference to Rogers
European Union, while post-Soviet Russia Brubaker’s concept of a triadic nexus between states, accusations of ethnic discriminanationalizing states, a national minority, and an tion, and suspicions of disloyalty against
remains a vast multi-ethnic federation
external homeland. It is argued that the fall of
minorities. Needless to say, it has also
with many trappings of a traditional emcommunism – and the fall of several multiled to wars and military interventions on
pire. There are several obvious differbehalf of external minorities, and to expulences between the two cases. First, ethnic federations, in particular – revived old
while Russia became a kin-state territorial conflicts and hostility among national sion and mutual population transfers.
On the whole, during the Cold War
only after the end of the Cold groups both within and between states. The
question of kin-state relations is put at the
the continent experienced relatively few
War, Hungary has been a
forefront of European minority issues.
conflicts based on kin-state relations.
kin-state since the end
KEY WORDS: minorities, kin-states, nationalThere are several obvious reasons for this.
of the First World
ism, Eastern Europe, border studies.
For a start, many of the formerly divided
War. Second,
Kin-state relations and
the borders of Europe
peer-reviewed essay
peer-reviewed essay
states became much more homogenous. National groups with
potential for pursuing a kin-state agenda, like the Serbs and the
Russians, were now united under the same state (i.e. the Soviet
Union and Yugoslavia). In addition, the communist regimes
restricted direct expression of ethnic allegiances. The issue
certainly did not vanish entirely; nevertheless, under those regimes, it became unacceptable to emphasize ethnic allegiances
above class interests.
Across the Iron Curtain, Western Germany had several issues
to settle regarding German nationals residing in the Soviet Union
and Soviet satellite states. Considering itself to be the only legitimate German state, the Federal Republic of Germany refused
to accept the Polish-German border along the Oder-Neisse line,
but was hampered by the fact that
Germany itself was divided and that
Poland and the German Democratic
Republic had agreed on their common
border. Throughout the Cold War,
Western Germany continued to pursue a policy of improving conditions
for its co-nationals in Eastern Europe,
although the scope for action was
highly restricted. 1
est and by far most violent example of kin-state nationalism in
post-war Western Europe was played out between the United
Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the Protestant and Catholic communities of Northern Ireland.
After the Second World War, a policy of non-interference
regarding kin-minorities became prevalent among Western
democracies; individual rights came at the expense of collective
rights.4 Indeed, the question of ethno-cultural relations became
increasingly marginalized and was considered to be a diminishing force in the light of modernization — despite the rise of
regional opposition in several Western democracies. However,
when the communist regimes fell apart so suddenly towards the
end of the 1980s, this almost exclusive focus on individual rights
came under challenge. Most urgently,
with the breakup of Yugoslavia and
the Soviet Union, Europe experienced a sudden and radical upsurge
in conflicts based on kin-state relations, which led to an unprecedented
number of territorial splits and newly
independent states. Many of these
entities were not in the business of
building up just any statehood: they
were clearly bent on carving out
their own, narrowly defined national
states, sometimes with rather limited
concerns for minority interests.
As a result, preventing these conflicts from escalating quickly became
the main concern among Western leaders. It involved a shift
away from individualism in favor of active promotion of and support for minority rights. In a parallel fashion, the stronger focus
on minority rights can be linked to the emergence of liberal
pluralism, which was largely a response to the increasingly multicultural composition of many Western societies.5 It also fit well
in the liberal international framework — such as the European
Union (formerly the EC), the OSCE (formerly the CSCE), and the
Council of Europe, which have all tied Western European democracies closer together. 6
itself to be the
only legitimate
German state, the
Federal Republic of
Germany refused to
accept the PolishGerman border
along the OderNeisse line.”
The distinction between Western
and Eastern forms of nation-building
is well tested, fairly banal, and yet
controversial.2 It comes down to the
following: national identity in Western
Europe has predominantly been tied to the territory and institutions of the political community, while the Eastern European
notion of national identity has always placed a strong emphasis
on cultural uniqueness, kinship and organic community — often
without the support of institutions and clearly defined territorial
borders. In a nutshell, the state usually preceded the nation in
the West, while the nation was formed in opposition to existing
empire states in the East. The absence of well-defined cultural
boundaries is a key factor here. Certainly, the political and
cultural boundaries in Europe are rarely fixed — with a few exceptions, such as those of Iceland. But the cultural and political
boundaries in eastern parts of the continent are exceptionally
fuzzy. An ancient problem in Central and Eastern Europe is that
many members of a national community have either been left
outside the confines of the state or that significant numbers of
“non-members” have ended up inside. Countries as diverse as
Russia, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Albania have all faced this dilemma at some point — and many still do.
West European states were, on the whole, consolidated at a
much earlier stage, borders were contested to a much smaller
degree, and cultural standardization was implemented on a
more comprehensive scale.3 In short, the territorial model of
nationalism, which arguably has been dominant in Western
Europe, left small scope for kin-state nationalism. The presence
of, for instance, Italian-speakers in Switzerland has not caused
conflicts based on the triadic kin-state relationship. The thorni-
Ménage à trois?
The extent to which a kin neighbor — often a larger, more imposing country — actually interferes on behalf of its co-nationals will
vary a great deal. However, certain states continually declare
their undisputable right — even duty — to monitor and promote
the interests of their kinsmen across the border. It is vital to
stress the interactive aspects of this nexus.
In contemporary nationalism literature, Rogers Brubaker’s
Nationalism Reframed7 is an obvious reference point describing kin-state relations. Brubaker has elaborated a simple model
of this triangular relationship. At one pole, there is the host
state. Often it is a comparatively new, small and insecure state
with strong urges to promote itself and express its uniqueness.
Brubaker labels it a “nationalizing state”.8 The nation may perceive itself as historically threatened, vulnerable, and in a “weak
Nations are after all only administrative entities. People may be on either side of a border.
peer-reviewed essay
cultural, economic, or demographic position within the state”.
It feels threatened by the ever-present larger neighboring state
and its co-nationals as a national minority. Nationalists might
consider such minorities as intruders or colonists — potentially
disloyal groups. Exclusive nation building may thus be considered as suitable compensation for past oppression. Characteristically, a nationalizing state has a relatively high proportion or
concentration of national minorities, but nevertheless holds on
to the ambition of becoming a nation state. In a sense, it can be
regarded as an “incomplete” nation state. A nationalizing agenda is obviously at work if these aims are more or less explicitly
stated by the ruling elites of the state. National elites may deny
that they are pursuing a nationalizing agenda, but these claims
are of little importance as long as the minority or external homeland perceive them to be pursuing one. As Brubaker 9 puts it:
To ask whether policies, practices, and so on are “really” nationalizing makes little sense. For present purposes, a nationalizing state is not one whose representatives, authors, or agents understand and articulate it
as such, but rather one that is perceived as such in the
field of the national minority or the external national
But it is not sufficient for the minority (or the external homeland) to simply claim that the state is undertaking a nationalizing
project; it also has to be socially sustained and directed towards
certain objectives or policies, which again can produce a political battle.10 Perceptions and subjectivity are also factors that
are difficult to account for when such inter-ethnic nexuses are
National minority is a very broad term, capturing several
sub-categories from small, indigenous minorities to labor immigrants and refugees from other parts of the world, to minority groups that happen to be residents of a particular state as a
result of border revisions. Minorities of this category are likely
to have co-nationals in one or several neighboring countries,
including their external homeland, the third actor in this nexus.
Often a large power (or a formerly large power) the external
homeland may have experienced border changes that have effectively cut it off from many of its co-nationals. It is common
practice for any state to protect its citizens abroad, but the peculiar point about what we call kin-state relations is that citizenship is not a precondition. The claim to “protect” co-nationals is
rather founded on ethnic belonging or linguistic, historic, and
spiritual ties. But even if there is broad
consensus among the elites to look
after the interests of compatriots in neighboring countries,
the agreement may end
there. While some political actors might settle
for a mild form of moral support, others are prepared to take a
much more active stance, ranging from providing material or financial support to repatriation programs. Much of it is obviously
rhetoric, such as complaining loudly about violations, imposing
demands upon the host country, or talking about recapturing
lost territories. In extreme cases, the external homeland may
actually use its self-declared right to protect co-nationals as a
pretext to wage war on a neighbor. Some minorities may ask for
assistance from their kin nation. But rather frequently, the minority is reduced to a spectator, a pawn in the conflicts between
the host nation and the external homeland.
As a heuristic tool, Brubaker’s model for understanding contemporary kin-state relations in Europe has been met with some
important criticism. One critique has focused on its reliance on
interwar Poland to understand contemporary kin-state issues.11
Others have focused on the concept of “nationalizing nationalism” and questioned whether it really differs substantially from
the nation-building pursued by West European states at an earlier time.12 But perhaps the most serious criticism of the model
comes from a number of scholars who point out that it really
should be a quadruple nexus which includes international organizations.13 Unquestionably, the Council of Europe, the OSCE,
and, in particular, the European Union have played vital roles in
shaping kin-state relations on the continent since the end of the
Cold War.14 But exactly how strong the impact of normative pressure and conditionality have been is a matter of scholarly debate
and hard to measure precisely — partly because former communist states entered the post-communist era with their own
perceptions and expectations of Europe and the West.15 As Vello
Pettai has pointed out, “deriving generalized hypotheses about
how the axes work becomes almost impossible to the extent that
there is no longer any reality in the model, just subjectivity and
multiple contestation”.16
The role of diaspora
in rebuilding Russia
One of the most pressing issues in the breakup of the Soviet
Union was that some 40 million former Soviet citizens ended up
outside their titular republic, more than half of them Russians residing outside the Russian Federation. This factor certainly had
a profound impact on many of the former Soviet republics, not
least on Russia itself. As the spiritual and ethnic homeland of 25
million co-nationals in the borderlands, there has also been wide
consensus within Russia that the country has a right, and even
a duty, to protect these groups. But other than that, there has in
fact been no coherent, long-term strategy on what kind of role
Russia should play in relation to other former Soviet republics.
The formation of a Eurasian Economic Union, officially launched
in January 2015 and initially comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kirgizstan, might thus be seen as the latest
attempt to revive the ties between former Soviet republics — with
Russia very much at the center stage. “Russia” is itself not a very
homogenous and clearly designated entity, which may explain
why it is often understood in a cultural or even civilizatory way,
rather than in terms of ethnicity. A broad, non-ethnic under-
peer-reviewed essay
standing of Russia and Russian-ness undoubtedly makes it easier
to reach out to former Soviet citizens who considered themselves spiritually linked to Russia and Russian culture. But this
rather ambiguous understanding of Russian identity also carries
drawbacks, as it has proved difficult to build a coherent policy towards external Russian communities around this loose concept.
It also serves as a reminder of how difficult it is to pinpoint the
extent and essence of Russia and Russian identity. Just before the
fall of the USSR, the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn posed the question “What is Russia?”17 The question seems to be as difficult to
answer today as it was when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Russian policymakers have used a range of terms to define
Russia’s relationship with Russians
and Russian-speakers in neighboring
countries, including “Russian diaspora” (russkaia diaspora), “Russianspeakers” or Russohones (russkoiazychne) and “compatriots” (sootechestvennik). More recently, the term
“Russian world” (russkii mir) has been
frequently employed, by Putin himself
among others, to describe the bonds
that allegedly unite Russian-speakers,
Slavs or even Orthodox Christians.
In the words of Kirill, the Patriarch of
the Russian Orthodox Church, the “Russian world” is a distinct
civilization whose unique spiritual and cultural values must be
preserved.19 A Russkii Mir Foundation was established by Putin
in 2007 to promote the Russian language and “Russian values”.
Envisaging Russian-speaking communities worldwide as an
“archipelago”, architects of the “Russian world” concept have
emphasized the vast potential in reaching out to Russians and
Russian-speakers not only in neighboring countries, but also
the diaspora beyond the post-Soviet space.20 A global language
community in the vein of the Organisation internationale de la
Francophonie La Francophonie might itself seem like a rather
benign idea. However, the scope of the russkii mir clearly goes
well beyond a shared love for the Russian language and has
eventually come to serve as a set of ideas that underpins Putin’s
evolving geopolitical doctrine, which also juggles distinct yet
overlapping concepts like nationalism, imperialism, pan-Slavism, Eurasianism, and Soviet nostalgia.21 Arguably, the Kremlin’s
approach to its “kin-minority” was for a long time quite incoherent and seemed to lack real clout. To put it differently, there was
quite a bit of noise, but not much substance. This state of affairs
might be linked with the fact that there is not really such a thing
as a single Russian minority outside Russia: from Central Asia
to the Baltic states, Russian communities are products of different circumstances.22 But after the annexation of Crimea and the
intervention in southeastern Ukraine, Moscow’s approach to its
neighbors and Russian-speakers beyond its borders has been
sharpened to a significant degree and a full-scale irredentist
agenda might indeed be on the table: to reunify “lost” territories
inhabited by ethnic kinsmen with their mother country. Citizen-
ship has turned out to be another vital tool for Russia vis-à-vis
the “near abroad”: the Russian citizenship law of 1993 allowed
every citizen of the former USSR living outside Russia to become
a Russian citizen by a simple procedure of registration. Hence,
the law made it apparent that Russian-speakers living abroad
would enjoy the protection of the Russian state. And after some
intense promotion, substantial numbers of people were indeed
persuaded to take Russian citizenship. Some of them, as in Estonia, were non-citizens, but most of them were already citizens of
another state. Since most of these countries refuse to accept dual
citizenship, the de facto dual citizens usually hide their Russian
passports. It should be pointed out that ethnic affiliation or place
of birth are not the sole criteria for obtaining Russian citizenship: in the run-up to the war with
Georgia in 2008, Russian passports
were widely distributed to people
living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Most of them were not ethnic Russians. Nevertheless, by turning them
into Russian citizens, Moscow could
claim that it was intervening in order
to “protect Russian citizens”.23
Conversely, the “right to protect” is
by no means restricted to Russian
citizens. Apparently “whole segments
of the Russian world” may require
Moscow’s protection: “It has to be stated with sadness that a
huge number of our compatriots abroad (…) continue to face serious problems in securing their rights and lawful interests”, one
Foreign Ministry official proclaimed, singling out the “creeping
offensive against the Russian language” as one issue that Russia
would not tolerate.24 The “right to protect compatriots” became
a pretext for intervening in Ukraine in the spring of 2014.
the Council of
Europe, the OSCE,
and, in particular,
the European Union
have played vital
roles in shaping kinstate relations.”
In the following, I will sketch out some of the most significant
developments between Russia and co-nationals in Russia’s “near
abroad” from region to region.
A community of 4.5 million Russians comprise one-third of
the total population of Kazakhstan. Although by far the largest
and most important Russian population in Central Asia, this
number is a significant drop from Soviet times. According to the
Soviet census from 1989, the Russian-speaking share of the population was actually above the 50 percent mark. The region as a
whole was, for a long time, seen as a Russian frontier — the wild
east as it were.25 But since the 1990s, large numbers of Russians
have left Central Asia.26 Today, northern Kazakhstan is practically the only significant area of Russian settlement. Although
local Russians and Moscow alike complain about repression and
exclusion, Russians do indeed make their presence felt in Kazakhstan. So does Russia — by far the country’s most important
trade partner. However, it is noteworthy that ethnic tensions
between Russians and Kazakhs have rarely erupted. In 2000,
the uncovering of an alleged Russian separatist plot heightened
the tensions somewhat, perhaps also exposing the volatility of
the region.27 But the relative tranquility between the new Cen-
The EU is the larger administrative unit. Embracing all minorities on either side of the border.
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tral Asian republics, their Russian minorities,
and Russia itself partly comes down to largescale suppression. The last thing the leaders
of the region want is to unleash the forces of
nationalism, which in Central Asia also have a
pronounced religious dimension.28 Without a
strong nationalist agenda, the scope for Russian
minority opposition is obviously reduced. This
state of affairs stands in contrast to several postSoviet states, including Ukraine and the Baltic
illustration: Futurist110 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The presence of ethnic Russians in the three
Ethnic Russians in former Soviet Union states according to the most recent census.
former Soviet states in the Caucasus is almost
negligible. But even though the proportion of
ethnic Russians in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and
to many Ukrainians today, but one that nevertheless illustrates
Georgia is comparatively small, the ties with Russia are often
the perception widely held among Russians that Ukraine is an
much more complex and volatile than those in Central Asia.
indispensable part of Russia and Russian-ness. President Putin
The most significant and highly instructive example emerged
made this very clear in his speech in Crimea on March 18, 2014:
in 2008, when ethnic violence broke out in the Georgian break“Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply
away region of South Ossetia. Tbilisi had staged a campaign to
close neighbors but, as I have said many times already, we are
bring South Ossetia and its fellow breakaway region Abkhazia
one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is
back into the fold. Meanwhile, Russia pledged to protect its
our common source and we cannot live without each other.”
citizens abroad, citing Article 51 of the UN charter on the right
At eight million, the number of Russians in Ukraine comprises
of self-defense. Indeed, very few ethnic Russians live in the two
the largest Russian kin-minority anywhere.31 They make up 17
regions, but virtually all South Ossetians and Abkhazians had
percent of the total population, with a heavy concentration in
been handed Russian citizenship beforehand.29 The result was a
brief but extremely disruptive war between Russia and Georgia
the eastern part of the country, as well as in the annexed peninin August 2008.
sula of Crimea in the south. The presence of many “Russified”
It was not the first time that post-Soviet Russia intervened
ethnic Ukrainians in the east adds to this picture.32 This ethnogeographical cleavage has had a serious impact on Ukrainian
militarily in its neighborhood. In 1992, the Moldovan enclave
politics and at times threatened to pull the country in opposite
of Transdniestria — a region of only half a million inhabitants,
directions, a possible scenario that has been emphasized by
evenly divided among Moldovans, Russians, and Ukrainians —
many analysts since the breakup of the Soviet Union,33 Few anabroke with the rest of the country, causing a brief civil war. Tenlysts, however, could have predicted that the outcome would be
sions had been mounting for some time, and by the time war
the declaration of the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics”
broke out, Russia’s 14th Army — formerly the Soviet 14th Army,
with headquarters in the Transdniestrian “capital” of Tiraspol —
and a full-scale civil war in eastern Ukraine. Then again, this
had been transformed into a fully-fledged army for opposition to
scenario would have been unimaginable without the larger picMoldovan independence.30 The ceasefire brokered by Russia imture: the protests at the Maidan, the ousting of the Yanukovych
posed Russian peacekeepers on the region. The forces included
regime, and Russia’s reactions to the events in Ukraine.
a special Russian unit in addition to the 14th Army, which was
With its one million Russians, Crimea is in a place of its own.
rebranded the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova.
Transferred from the Russian to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, partly
Russian forces were supposed to leave by 1997, but are still staas a friendship gesture and partly for practical reasons, it was
tioned in the self-proclaimed Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.
also the only autonomous region of post-Soviet Ukraine. GenerAfter the Russian annexation of Crimea, an issue evaluated beally pro-Moscow and accordingly anti-Kyiv, the Autonomous Relow, the political temperature in Transdniestria might rise even
public of Crimea never quite accepted its fate as part of Ukraine.
It is home to the Russian Black Sea fleet and several high-profile
The Russian population of Moldova stands at a modest 6
politicians in Russia had suggested for a long time that the penpercent. Another 8.5 percent are Ukrainians, many of them Rusinsula ought to return to Russian hands, although Russia had
sified denizens of Transdniestria. But this is a relatively small mirecognized the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
nority compared with the Russian and Russian-speaking populaEthnic relations on the peninsula are further complicated by
tion of Ukraine. Unlike Moldova, Ukraine shares a long border
with Russia and is clearly of much greater importance for Russia. the presence of Crimean Tatars, a minority that was deported en
masse to Siberia and Central Asia by Stalin in 1944, but allowed
Russia has for centuries referred to Ukraine as “Little Russia”.
to return during the Gorbachev era. Today there are almost
Once a geographical denotation, it is clearly a derogatory term
The Rus speaks Russian. Not Ukrainian. On this they both agree. On other matters, less.
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300,000 of them, and they have fought hard for ancient land
rights but have often been met with hostility — particularly from
the Russians. Because they are a disaffected Muslim minority,
there has been fear that some Tartars might slide towards extremism.34 In the hastily arranged referendum of March 2014, the
Tatars were overwhelmingly against joining Russia and stayed
home instead of voting. Their future in the Russian-held peninsula remains highly uncertain: their unofficial leader, Mustafa
Dzhemilev, is barred from entering the peninsula and some Tatars have decided to emigrate.
There were certainly separatist aspirations to be found in
Crimea before 2014, but they were little more than occasional
harsh statements and some low-level violence. Nonetheless,
there were evidently no guarantees that it would stay that way:
Russia had quietly set the stage for a confrontation by handing
out passports to Russian Crimeans — a practice it also followed
in other former Soviet republics. Ukraine does not allow dual
citizenship, but this did not deter large numbers of Russian
Crimeans — all Ukrainian citizens since 1992 — from taking Russian citizenship. In 2008, this development prompted speculation about Crimea becoming the next South Ossetia: Russia was
steadily whipping up tensions in the region and waiting for an
excuse to step in on the pretext of defending its citizens.35 By
March 2014, these predictions took on an entirely new meaning when Russia — at a breathtaking
pace — not only wrenched control of
Crimea from Ukraine, but even incorporated it in the Russian Federation.
This turn of events will certainly have
repercussions on upcoming studies
of kin-state politics and, more seriously, international relations.
Russia has quite skillfully managed to draw attention to the
issue of stateless Russian minorities and alleged breaches of
human rights and democratic deficits in Estonia and Latvia,
appealing frequently to the EU and the Council of Europe.37
However, there has been very little action from the Russian side.
Given that Russia had some 130,000 troops stationed in the Baltic
states during the early post-Soviet years, it could have turned
out rather differently — perhaps on a par with what happened
in Moldova’s Transdniestria region. Russia did indeed use the
issue of troops as a stick, threatening to halt — or even reverse —
the withdrawal process unless Estonia and Latvia agreed to
grant citizenship to all Russian-speakers.38 But ultimately these
attempts failed entirely. Several years later, Russia protested
loudly against NATO membership for the Baltic states. But the issue never became a red line for Russia, as some analysts had anticipated.39 In the meantime, Baltic-Russian ties hit another low
in the spring of 2005, when the presidents of all the three Baltic
countries were pondering the question of participation in the
VE Day celebration in Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of
the victory over Nazi Germany. The Baltic leaders reasoned that,
although it marked the end of the Second World War in most of
Europe, it was also the beginning of another fifty years of occupation for the Baltic countries. Many believed that attending the
ceremony would effectively amount to recognition of the Soviet
annexation in 1940. The event sparked
a heated debate about the Second
World War history of the Baltic states:
the three countries insist that Russia
must apologize for the Soviet incorporation of the republics. But Russia was
— and remains — completely unwilling
to give in to these demands, maintaining that the term “occupation” cannot
be used as a legal assessment of the
situation: “The term ‘occupation’ cannot be used for legal assessment of the
situation prevailing in the Baltic region
in the late 30s of the past century because the USSR and the Baltic states were not in the state of war and no hostilities were on.
The introduction of troops was done on the contractual basis
and with manifest agreement from the then authorities of these
republics, no matter what they are thought of”, according to the
Russian Foreign Ministry.40
“after more than
two decades of
independence, many
of estonia’s and
latvia’s soviet-era
immigrants have
finally become
rights of citizenship have been a
major topic in the two Baltic states of
Estonia and Latvia. Both countries
took the radical step of denying automatic citizenship rights to residents (and their descendants) who
had moved there during Soviet times. This move systematically
affected the position of the Russian minority and other mainly
Slavic immigrants in the two countries. The core argument, then
as now, was that the countries had been annexed and occupied
by the Soviet Union, and hence, immigration which had taken
place during those years must be deemed illegal. Many nationalists demanded a large-scale exit of Soviet-era immigrants.36 More
pragmatic forces acknowledged that this was an improbable and
impractical solution. They opted instead for gradual integration
of Russian-speakers, but only within a more or less predefined
national framework. After more than two decades of independence, many of Estonia’s and Latvia’s Soviet-era immigrants
have finally become citizens, while an undisclosed number have
opted for Russian citizenship (particularly in Estonia), and many
remain stateless, although the latter numbers are steadily dropping. Meanwhile, relatively few have voted with their feet (i.e.,
moved to Russia or another former Soviet republic).
Meanwhile, Russia offered Estonia and Latvia border agreements to be signed in connection with the VE Day celebration.
Fifteen years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the border
issues between the Baltic countries and Russia had yet to be
resolved. Estonia and Latvia maintained that the peace treaties
they had signed with Soviet Russia after the First World War
were still valid. When the Baltic states were incorporated into
the USSR, both Estonia and Latvia lost a certain amount of territory as a result of border revisions.41 Theoretically, the claims
about the peace treaties implied that the two countries had
made territorial claims towards Russia, as Moscow argued. It was
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evidently not the territories that concerned the two countries: if
anything, a return of territory would only increase the number
of Russians in their populations. Their purpose was rather to
force Russia into recognizing the illegality of the Soviet annexation.42
Russia has for centuries seen the Baltic region as strategically
vital to its security interests. From the beginning, the Russian
Federation was reluctant to treat other Soviet successor states
simply as foreign states, instead labeling them collectively as
the “near abroad”. On the other hand, since the breakup of the
Soviet Union, the Baltic states have tried to distance themselves
from the rest of the former Soviet region as much as possible,
politically, economically, and culturally. Meanwhile, the more
Russian nationalists and communists talked about “restoring the
old Soviet borders”, the more the Baltic leaders were inclined
to turn to the West for protection. Independence from Russian
influence became a matter of survival. As of 2015, not only fringe
groups talk about restoring the Soviet borders. In the Baltic capitals, tensions are running high.
Hungary and
the wound of Trianon
After the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary was
severely reduced in size. Validating the military advances of the
Romanian, Czech, and Yugoslav armies after the war, the Treaty
of Trianon (1920) stripped the country of no less than two-thirds
of its territory. Some of it went to Czechoslovakia, other parts
to Yugoslavia, while the entire region of Transylvania went to
Romania. Hungary regained some of the territories in its alliance
with Nazi Germany, but inevitably lost them again after the Second World War. The Trianon Treaty did not of course just mean
a major territorial loss; Hungary also lost three-fifth of its population (including many people of non-Magyar origin). Today
around 3 million Magyars reside outside Hungary. Hungary itself
has some 10 million inhabitants.
There can be no doubt that Hungary, a defeated power,
was treated harshly by the Allies after the First World War. The
Austro-Hungarian Empire was an obvious target for the victorious powers, which, led by the USA, were bent on breaking up
Europe’s multi-ethnic empires permanently. But the Hungarian
part of the empire arguably lost much more than its imperial
assets. While the Allies seemed to consider some lost territories as colonial possessions, Hungary saw them as core parts
of Hungary. The Magyar population of Transylvania, Ruthenia
(Transcarpathia/Zakarpattia), Vojvodina, and Upper Hungary
(Slovakia) stood at approximately 30 percent. In some areas,
such as Transylvania, partition could quite easily have followed
ethnic lines, but the Allies wanted none
of it. The various regions were instead
granted to Hungary’s neighbors.
Strikingly, Hungary lost on every count. Hence, it is hardly
surprising that Hungary
went through a long
period of national
A Cossack patrol near the Baku oil fields, 1905.
trauma and political turmoil after Trianon.43 The pact with
Nazi Germany notwithstanding, it is noteworthy that no wars
broke out over the 1920 settlement. Nor were there any major
outbreaks of violence between any of the host states and their
Magyar minorities in the interwar period.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Magyar minority groups did not perhaps face as dramatic a fate as the Germans
did. The Czechoslovakian government in exile, led by Edvard
Beneš, had wanted to expel all “disloyal” minorities, but failed to
receive acceptance from the Allied powers for a wholesale expulsion of the Magyars.44 But like Magyars in Transylvania and Vojvodina, many were stripped of their citizenship and property.
Some were expelled, while others escaped to Hungary. A limited
population transfer also took place. The Magyars of Ruthenia
probably faced the bleakest prospects when they became a part
of the Ukrainian SSR. It cut them off from Magyars elsewhere
and they were given no autonomy within the USSR.
The imposition of a communist dictatorship never did away
with ethnic tensions, but unquestionably put a firm hold on
them. When the communist regimes of the region fell in quick
succession, the minority question returned to its former prominence. Hungary’s first post-communist leader, József Antall,
declared that he wished to be “the spiritual prime minister for 15
million Magyars”.45 The statement irked Romanian and Slovak
officials, who saw it as part of a shadowy irredentist plot to undo
the territorial settlement of Trianon.46 Antall’s suggestion that
some of the post-Habsburg states were “artificial political creations” did not improve matters. Partly inspired by the German
reunification, but also by the Slovenian and Croatian aspirations
to independence from Yugoslavia, Hungarian officials openly
began to advocate border revisions.47 While criticism from Brussels, Washington, and Western governments seemed surprisingly muted in the beginning, domestic opposition parties flatly
rejected such talk, suggesting that Hungary instead had to make
it very clear that she had no intention of acquiring any of her
neighbors’ territories, either by force or by peaceful means.48
For their part, Romanian and Slovak officials happily joined
in on this ethno-political spat. Slovakia made a huge leap in a
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Tsar Nicholas II among his troops during World War I.
nationalist direction when the Czechs and Slovaks decided to
go their separate ways. Before the “velvet divorce”, Prague had
appeared to be rather accommodating towards Magyar minority demands, even supporting the idea of a Magyar university
in Bratislava.49 But it was ultimately Vladimír Mečiar, not Václav
Havel, who ruled in Slovakia. The Magyars had been opposed to
Slovak independence. In the new republic, Slovak became the
sole official language and the constitution made no reference
to the more than one in ten Slovak citizens of minority background. Hungary protested and tried to add strict conditions for
the Slovak candidacy of the Council of Europe, even attempting
to block its entry when these conditions fell through.50 But Hungary’s leverage was limited. Subsequently, the Magyar minority
had to put up with a rather orthodox policy of Slovakization and
electoral manipulation of boundaries throughout the 1990s. Before he was ousted from power in 1998, Mečiar even proposed a
“voluntary” population exchange between the two countries.51
But a change of direction did in the end occur when a large
coalition government, which included a party serving Magyar
interests, the Hungarian Coalition, replaced the increasingly authoritarian Mečiar government. The new government was preparing for EU membership and introduced a new language law
that pleased the Magyar minority and, not least, the European
Commission. The inclusion of the far-right Slovak National Party
in the government in 2006 certainly increased the pressure on
the minority question. Infamous for his radical remarks, the
National Party leader Ján Slota remarked that the “Hungarians
are the cancer of the Slovak nation, without delay we need to
remove them from the body of the nation.”52 Shortly afterwards,
his proposal to re-enact the Beneš Decrees was adopted by the
National Assembly with the support of a large majority. Members
of the Czech parliament had had their minds fixed on former Sudeten Germans when they had voted for a similar bill five years
earlier. The Slovaks had the Magyars in mind. The decrees had
led directly to the expulsion of about 2.6 million Germans and
100,000 Magyars from Czechoslovakia, and remain a point of
contention between the Czech Republic and Slovakia and their
neighbors Germany, Austria and Hungary to this day. The Czech
rationale for confirming the decrees had a lot to do with fears
of opening a floodgate of claims from expelled Germans and
their families. The Slovaks may also have been worried about
restitution demands, but the decision also smacked of chauvinism and revanchism — particularly since a far-right party had
first proposed it. Slovakia’s lawmakers must surely have known
that to continue imposing collective guilt on the large Magyar
population would affect interethnic relations in the country and
infuriate Hungary, the external actor. The relationship between
the Slovakian government, on the one hand, and the Hungarian minority and Hungary itself, on the other, hit another low
in 2009 when Slovakia introduced an amended language law,
which severely limits the use of minority languages. Under this
law, only Slovak can be used for official communication, but the
law is rather vague in determining what constitutes “official communication”, particularly in regard to private businesses and associations.53 Infringements are punishable by fines of up to 5,000
Unlike Slovakia, Romania is not a new, nationalizing state. But
even though Romania was not a recent, insecure state, ethnic
relations in the country looked rather unpromising in the mid1990s. Romania’s problems stemmed from the particularly harsh
and nationally-minded brand of communism championed by
Nicolae Ceaușescu. Relations between the government and
ethnic minority groups were immediately improved after his
sudden downfall: the interim National Salvation Front made
overtures to the Magyar minority by promising proportional representation, and even spoke of reopening the Magyar-speaking
University in the Transylvanian city of Cluj. But this peaceful
state of affairs would not last long. As in Slovakia, but in an intriguing contrast to many of the Russian communities outside
Russia, the Magyars were unified and politically well organized.
From the start, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (HDFR) successfully captured the Magyar voters, who have
continued to rally around the party. A vocal and self-assured party, the HDFR rallied against the constitution in the early 1990s,
since it offered no guarantees for specific minority rights, such as
the use of Hungarian in public. More irking for many Romanians,
the party sent a complaint to the Council of Europe, accusing
the government of colluding with ultra-nationalists.55 The party
went a step further than the Slovak Magyars when it pressed for
territorial autonomy, a demand that was flatly rejected by the
rest of the political establishment. The party also suggested a law
that would give minorities status as autonomous groups with collective rights, which were ignored.56
Romania, for its part, had indeed made a turn in a nationalist direction in the early 1990s. Two strongly nationalist parties started to make their presence felt just as the mainstream
conservative parties shifted to a more nationalist orientation.
Transylvania became a battleground in the standoff between
nationalists and Magyars. The former did well in national and
local elections and became a force to be reckoned with. Tensions reached a boiling point when nationalists started a local
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campaign to remove all symbols of Magyar culture and history.57
But the situation improved after the elections in 1996, which produced a coalition of moderate Romanian parties and the HDFR.
The latter was forced to lower some of its demands, including
territorial autonomy, but successfully bargained for bilingualism
in towns and regions where Magyars made up at least 20 per cent
of the population, as well as for schooling in Hungarian.58
Romania also earned international recognition for implementing the Charter on Regional and Minority Languages and
the Framework Convention on the Protection of Minorities (both
Council of Europe documents).These improvements coincided
with Romania’s application for membership in the European
Union. Despite some wrangling between Bucharest and Budapest, including early attempts to block Romania’s entry to the
Council of Europe, it is noteworthy that Hungary remained
supportive of the Romanian EU bid.59 Hungary was presumably
concerned about the fate of the 1.5 million Romanian Magyars,
if Romania had not become part of the Union. EU membership
opens up possibilities for interaction among Magyars that were
unimaginable in the past.
In the meantime, Hungary passed a controversial Status Law
in 2001, which granted a range of privileges to Hungarians living
beyond the borders of Hungary. They included educational opportunities, work permits, and access to health care and social
security normally only granted to Hungarian citizens. The aim
was to “ensure that Hungarians living in neighboring countries
form part of the Hungarian nation as a whole and to promote
and preserve their well-being and awareness of national identity
within their home country”.60
This created a veritable storm of protests from Romanian and
Slovakian officials, who accused Hungary of undermining their
sovereignty, interfering in domestic affairs, hinting at extraterritorial claims, and breaching regular conduct of inter-state relations.61 Three years later, Hungarian
voters had the opportunity to further
strengthen these ties when they were
asked in a referendum if Hungarians
living in neighboring states should
receive preferential naturalization if
they wished to become Hungarian
citizens. The proposal came about
because the World Federation of
Hungarians managed to collect the
required 200,000 signatures to stage
the referendum. A wafer-thin majority did support the proposal,
but it fell through due to a turnout of only 37.5 percent. This time
it was the Magyars outside Hungary who were furious, staging
demonstrations and threatening to cut ties with their spiritual
homeland.62 Meanwhile, the defeat could, at the time, be interpreted as a sign that Hungary had, despite the considerable support for the proposal among elites and ordinary citizens alike, finally come to terms with the fact that it was better off as a nation
state than a bitter ex-empire. But with the stunning victory of
Fidesz in the 2010 parliamentary election, a bill allowing dual cit-
izenship for Hungarians in other countries put even more strain
on the troubled relationship between Hungary and her neighbors. The new government quickly changed the citizenship law,
allowing Magyars residing outside Hungary to become citizens.
They were initially not to be allowed to vote in Hungarian parliamentary elections, a restriction that was scrapped in 2011. Slovak
officials had warned that Hungarians in Slovakia who took Hungarian citizenship would be stripped of their Slovak citizenship.
Nevertheless, around half a million individuals, many of them
from Slovakia, had become Hungarian citizens by the time new
parliamentary elections were held in 2014. Not surprisingly, the
new citizens overwhelmingly endorsed Fidesz.
Kin-state relations
and European norms
When Hungary passed its Status Law in 2001, Romania and Slovakia claimed that it ran counter to international law. Romania
went on to ask the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission to
examine the compatibility of the law with the norms of the European Union. Predictably, the verdict was mixed: in its report,
the commission carefully avoided direct criticism of Hungary,
but also acknowledged that the Romanian allegations were in
part were justified.63 Indeed, the Venice Commission seems to
share with Romania a critical approach to the basic tenets of the
law. The Romanian position may of course have been born of
convenience rather than conviction: it is worth keeping in mind
that Bucharest wrestles with similar dilemmas as Budapest in relation to Moldova. In fact, both Slovakia and Romania have their
own status laws, albeit more limited than Hungary’s.
But the practical and essentially self-serving calculations
of individual countries aside, what are the prevalent attitudes
in Brussels towards kin-state relations — if any? The European
Union does have a policy on minority protection, but its Community law says little about standards of minority protection —
which leaves plenty of scope for
independent action among its member states. Since 1993, however, all
new and aspiring EU members have
been bound by the Copenhagen criteria, which indirectly also involve
becoming a signatory of the Council
of Europe’s Framework Convention
for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM). But what the EU does
not have is a clear policy concerning
kin-minority protection, which makes it rather difficult to assess
the appropriateness of Hungary’s Status Law. True, Article 12
of the EC Treaty explicitly forbids all discrimination based on
nationality.64 The catch is that the Status Law cannot be said to
discriminate in terms of nationality, but rather of language and
ethnic origin. The FCNM is itself open to different interpretations
on this point. But as long as Hungary unambiguously respects
the territorial sovereignty of other states, treaties that have been
signed, and good neighborly relations among states, as well as
fundamental principles of human rights and anti-discrimination,
“Without a strong
nationalist agenda,
the scope for
Russian minority
opposition is
obviously reduced.”
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Photo: Dragos Asaftei
Hungarian traditional costumes. Illustration for Il costume antico e
moderno by Giulio Ferrario, 1831.
Magyar folk assembly.
there is little to suggest that the Status Law directly violates
the EU’s basic principles. Moreover, the idea of a transnational
language community is not unheard of in Western Europe. By
way of example, France cultivates links with French-speakers
elsewhere through the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.
the assertion that the Russian approach to neighboring countries is highly intertwined with domestic issues, one of the most
alarming undercurrents of Russian politics has been the way
nationalists and hardliners have exploited the diaspora issue.
However, what used to be a fringe position has been elevated
to the mainstream in Russia since Putin started his third presidency. At the time of writing, Russia has already annexed Crimea
and is asserting its power in eastern Ukraine. Since the military
intervention in Georgia in 2008, Russia has also insisted that it
has a “duty” to protect its “citizens” abroad.67
The 25 million-plus Russians residing outside Russia (which
does not include all those who are Russian-speakers) may not
share a pronounced Russian identity, but they certainly have
one important characteristic in common: the legacy of the Soviet
Union and their fate as ethnic minorities in post-Soviet states.
Although many of them might not care much about a “common
destiny”, this factor is nevertheless a powerful weapon in the
hands of hardliners within Russia. There have been speculations
about a revanchist Russia since the early 1990s: Russia had “lost”
the Cold War, its global status and much of its territory. Meanwhile, former satellite states joined ranks with “the other side”
and the borders of NATO rapidly moved much closer to Russia itself. Russian leaders and many ordinary citizens have expressed
that they were being “humiliated” by the West. The loss of the
Soviet Union also became a source of mourning and regret. On
the eve of the VE celebration in 2005, Putin declared that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe
of the 20th century. Almost a decade later, he declared that the
“Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.”68 Many observers have drawn parallels to interwar Germany and the way Adolf
Hitler sold his message of humiliation at Versailles and promises
of restoring German pride. There are also parallels to the exploitation of some 10 million Germans in other countries as a pretext
to invade Germany’s neighbors. By March 2014, these parallels
no longer seemed so far-fetched. By annexing a part of a sover-
However, the Hungarian approach seems to go several steps
further than La Francophonie in linking its national interests
with those of Hungarians in other countries. When Viktor Orbán, several times prime minister of Hungary, asserted that “the
future of Hungary lies not in the Hungary of 10 million but in the
Hungarian nation of 15 million,”65 he echoed his predecessor
József Antall’s wish from the early 1990s to be a “spiritual prime
minister for 15 million Hungarians”. Moreover, he made it clear
that the days of extraterritorial politics are not yet over in Europe. And Hungary is not the only country in the region to have
a clause on “preferential treatment of co-nationals abroad” in its
constitution: Croatia, Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania are cases in point, albeit of less importance than Hungary.66
But whether the spirit of kin-state relations can be accommodated within the liberal framework of the European Union is a moot
question. To grant special provisions to a particular ethnic group
in terms of, say, education is certainly pushing the boundaries
of kin-state politics beyond the acceptable for many member
states. It might also be a challenge for the liberal institutional
framework of Europe to try to define “ethnicity” in legal terms.
The issue of kin-state relations is undoubtedly far more complex in the case of Russia than Hungary. Although Moscow actively makes use of European platforms — the Council of Europe,
the European Court of Justice and even the European Union — to
pursue its interests and to voice its opinions, Russia is not a
member of the EU and hence not bound by its regulations and
codes of behavior. Russia appears to be unwilling and unable to
come to terms with the loss of an empire and to redefine her role
in world politics as something other than a superpower. Given
People and land may sometimes be seen as one entity. This often leads to conflict.
peer-reviewed essay
eign state, Russia had turned the most pessimistic predictions
into reality. Whether it stops at Crimea remains a moot question.
Concluding remarks
In this article I have argued that the fall of communism — and the
fall of several multi-ethnic federations, in particular —revived
old territorial conflicts and hostility among national groups both
within and between states. It also put the question of kin-state
relations at the forefront of European minority issues. The kinstate issue is by no means a new one, but its political relevance
had practically vanished in Western Europe (with few notable
exceptions, such as Northern Ireland and Cyprus). The notion
of collective minority protection in Western Europe had rather
low priority immediately after the Second World War, and was
almost ignored. The experience of war and extermination made
West European leaders staunchly favor promoting individual
rights at the expense of collective rights. The liberal state would,
it was maintained, ensure fairness and equality regardless of
ethnic belonging. But the rapid increase of new minorities as a
result of immigration in the 1960s and 1970s eventually forced
a re-thinking of minority strategies. Instead of pretending that
ethnic identities were not important, many European countries
moved towards a much more active policy of minority protection, fully endorsing the idea of ethnic diversity and multiculturalism.69 At the same time, the notion of collective rights was
embedded in agreements on minority protection, notably in
the 1995 Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities. However, it is important to keep in mind that the
emphasis on individual rights and anti-discrimination was not
abandoned in favor of collective rights.
The latter merely became a supplement
to the former.
In certain respects, the communist
half of the continent followed a parallel development. Nationalism did not
disappear under communism, even
after the extensive migration and
expulsions that took place just after
the Second World War. But nationalist sentiment was heavily wrapped in
officially sanctioned Marxist-Leninist
rhetoric. Hence, there was a lot of public denial concerning minority issues.
On a pragmatic level, the communist
states often made generous provisions and even provided institutional platforms for minority groups. But whereas many Western
European states, together with the EU, CoE, and OSCE, gradually
came around to a more proactive approach to minority questions,
the sudden implosion of the communist model exposed a great
deal of antagonism between ethnic groups and states in Central
and Eastern Europe. Kin-state politics re-emerged either as a
result of state disintegration (Yugoslavia and the Soviet
Union) or because old and essentially unresolved territorial issues re-emerged (such as those resulting from
the Peace of Trianon and even the postwar borders be-
tween Poland and Germany). Traditional kin-states have asserted
their “duty” to protect and speak up for their kinsmen in neighboring countries and have often accused the host states of neglecting or even mistreating their minorities. The host states, on the
other hand, have been provoked by what they see as meddling in
internal affairs. They have also been suspicious about potentially
disloyal minorities, apprehensive that these groups would betray
them under pressure. Meanwhile, the minorities have often protested against what they believe is a form of ethnocide — the scope
for expressing their identity being dismantled. They sometimes
seek support from their external homeland to halt this process, or
the homeland may protest first. In the end, it is difficult to judge
who exactly is provoking whom.
Unresolved kin-state relations have increasingly become a
Europe-wide issue and might eventually change the way that
European organizations like the EU, CoE, and OSCE handle
them. While, for instance, all EU member states have committed
themselves to a predefined framework on minority protection,
they are also in a position to put their mark on this framework.
While the conclusions of the Venice Commission’s report on
Hungary’s Status Law seem somewhat ambiguous, it is clear that
the participation in the EU of countries like Hungary, Slovakia,
and Romania (the latter actually being in a double position with
its approach towards Moldova) will shape Europe’s approach to
kin-state relations in the years to come.
How can we envisage the role of kin-state politics in the Europe
of the future? It is evident that the approach taken by Hungary
towards its co-nationals in other states has stirred up conventional
notions of sovereignty and non-interference — cornerstones of the Westphalian
state. But the European Union is itself
challenging the time-honored state system in several respects. Some scholars
are pondering the emergence of a postWestphalian Europe — a neo-medieval
empire with pooled sovereignty and porous borders.70 In such a perspective, the
Hungarian approach might not be so out
of touch. It arguably points to a Europe
of national rather than state sovereignty.71 On the other hand, the Status Law is
more reminiscent of a neo-medieval Europe than a cosmopolitan, post-national
Europe. More problematic still, it may have repercussions in other
parts of Europe, notably in candidate countries in the Western Balkans; it also demonstrates that kin-state politics remains a source of
nationalist resistance to the EU project.72
With regard to Europe beyond the European Union, I have
discussed Russia’s position vis-à-vis its neighbors, including the
current EU members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. While Russia
is not asking for EU membership, other countries in the region
might want to join — although none are likely to receive an invitation from Brussels soon. In order to overcome the growing barrier
between insiders and outsiders, the EU has designed a European
“the approach
taken by Hungary
towards its conationals in other
states has stirred
up conventional
notions of
sovereignty and
Hostility is easily evoked in kin-state relations. This might lead to violence.
peer-reviewed essay
Neighborhood Policy (ENP), whose heavy emphasis on crossborder development between communities across the external
EU borders could point towards a novel form of kin-state relations
among EU members and between EU countries and adjacent
states. However, Moscow’s own ambitions in the very same neighborhood are strongly at odds with Brussels’ evolving framework:
the drawn-out battle for Ukraine might ultimately determine the
shape of European kin-state politics in the 21st Century. ​≈
Kjetil Duvold, senior lecturer at Dalarna University and
senior researcher at CBEES, Södertörn University.
Acknowledgement: The author would like to thank Thomas Lundén, at
CBEES, Södertörn University for his valuable input.
1 Karl Cordell and Stefan Wolff, “Germany as a Kin-State: The Development
and Implementation of a Norm-Consistent External Minority Policy
towards Central and Eastern Europe”, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of
Nationalism and Ethnicity 35 no 2 (2007): 289—315.
2 Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism: a Study in its Origins and Background
(New York: Macmillan, 1945); Stephen Shulman, “Challenging the
Civic/Ethnic and West/East Dichotomies in the Study of Nationalism”,
Comparative Political Studies 35 no 5 (2002): 554—585; Taras Kuzio,
“Nationalising States” or Nation-building? A Critical Review of the
Theoretical Literature and Empirical Evidence”, Nations and Nationalism,
7 no 2 (2001): 135—154.
3 Stein Rokkan and Derek W. Urwin, Economy, Territory, Identity: Politics
of West European Peripheries, (London: Sage, 1983); Stefano Bartolini,
Restructuring Europe: Centre Formation, System Building, and Political
Structuring between the Nation State and the European Union (Oxford:
Oxford University Press: 2005).
4 Will Kymlicka and Magda Opalski, eds., Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported?
Western Political Theory and Ethnic Relations in Eastern Europe (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001).
5 Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority
Rights (Oxford: Oxford: University Press, 1995).
6 Kymlicka and Opalski, Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported?.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid, 5.
9 Ibid, 61.
10 Ibid, 63—64.
11 Kataryna Wolczuk, “History, Europe and the ‘National Idea’: the ‘Official’
Narrative of National Identity in Ukraine”, Nationalities Papers, 28 no 4
(2000): 675.
12 Kuzio, “Nationalising States”.
13 David J. Smith, “Framing the National Question in Central and Eastern
Europe: A Quadratic Nexus?” The Global Review of Ethnopolitics 2 no 1
(2002): 3—16; Judith G. Kelley, Ethnic Politics in Europe: The Power of Norms
and Incentives (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004);
D. J. Galbreath and J. McEvoy, J., The European Minority Rights Regime:
Towards a Theory of Regime Effectiveness (Basingstoke, U. K.: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2012).
14 Barbara Törnquist-Plewa and Magdalena Gorá, “The EU as a Normative
Success for National Minorities. Before and After the EU Enlargement”,
Baltic Worlds, VII:4 (2014), 39-50.
15 T. Haughton, “When Does the EU Make a Difference? Conditionality and
the Accession Process in Central and Eastern Europe”, Political Studies
Review, 5 no 2 (2007): 233—246; J. Hughes and G. Sasse, “Monitoring
the monitors: EU Enlargement Conditionality and Minority Protection
in the CEECs”, Journal of Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe,
1 no 1 (2003): 1—36. G. Pridham, “The European Union’s Democratic
Conditionality and Domestic Politics in Slovakia: The Mečiar and
Dzurinda Governments Compared”, Europe—Asia Studies, 54 no 2 (2002):
203—227; Timofey Agarin and Ada-Charlotte Regelmann (2012) “Which is
the Only Game in Town? Minority Rights Issues in Estonia and Slovakia
During and After EU Accession”, Perspectives on European Politics and
Society, 13 no 4 (2012): 443—461.
16 Vello Pettai, “Explaining Ethnic Politics in the Baltic States: Reviewing the
Triadic Nexus Model”, Journal of Baltic Studies, 37 no 1 (2006): 132—133.
17 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative
Proposals (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991).
18 Vera Tolz, “Politicians’ Conceptions of the Russian Nation”, in
Contemporary Russian Politics. A Reader, ed. Archie Brown (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001); Anatoly M. Khazanov, “A State Without
a Nation? Russia After Empire”, in The Nation-State in Question, ed. T.
V. Paul, G. John Ikenberry and John A. Hall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2003).
19 The New York Times, “Glory to the 'Russian World'”, October 13 2014.
Accessed February 11 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/opinion/
20 Nerijus Maliukevičius, “(Re)Constructing Russian Soft Power in PostSoviet Region”, Baltic Security & Defence Review 15 no 2, (2013).
21 Igor Torbakov, “The Angry Young Russians: New-Generation Nationalists
Critique the Russian Nationalist Tradition”, Europe-Asia Studies
22 Pål Kolstø, Russians in the Former Soviet Republics (London: Hurst, 1995).
23 Roy Allison, “The Russian Case for Military Intervention in Georgia:
International Law, Norms and Political Calculation”, European Security,
Vol. 18, Issue 2 (2009),
24 The Moscow Times “Russia Sees Need to Protect Russian Speakers in NATO
Baltic States” September 16 2014. Accessed February 10 2014, http://www.
themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russia-sees-need-to-protect-russianspeakers-in-nato-baltic-states/507188.html .
25 Alexander V. Prusina and Scott C. Zemana, “Taming Russia's Wild East:
The Central Asian historical-revolutionary film as Soviet Orientalism”,
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 23 no 3 (2003).
26 Galina An and Charles M. Becker, “Uncertainty, Insecurity, and Emigration
from Kazakhstan to Russia”, World Development, 42 (2013): 44—66.
27 A
sia Times “Russian ‘separatists’ highlight ethnic tensions” June 16 2000.
Accessed November 18 2014 http://www.atimes.com/c-asia/BF16Ag01.html.
28 Ahmed Rashid, The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism?
(Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1994).
29 Thomas de Waal, “South Ossetia: An Avoidable Catastrophe”, CRS, no 452
(2008). Accessed April 14 2014, http://iwpr.net/report-news/south-ossetiaavoidable-catastrophe.
30 Edward Ozhiganov, “The Republic of Moldova: Transdniester and the
14th Army”, in Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and
American Perspectives ed. Alexei Arbatov et.al. ( London and Cambridge,
Mass.: MIT Press, 1997).
31 This figure includes Crimea.
32 It came to a crisis in late 2004 known as the Orange Revolution. Since then
we have been observing an ongoing conflict in the area.
33 Taras Kuzio, Robert S. Kravhcuk, and Paul D’Anieri, State and Nation
Building in Ukraine (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999).
34 “Crimea’s Tatars: Clearing the Way for Islamic Extremism?”, Accessed
peer-reviewed essay
October 1 2009, http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1054513.html.
35 “Fears that Crimea could be Next Flashpoint for Conflict with Russia”.
Accessed October 1, 2009, http://www.rferl.org/content/Crimea_
36 “Baltic Nations ask U.N. to Help get Troops Out”. Accessed October 1,
2009, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/04/world/3-baltic-nations-ask-unto-help-get-troops-out.html.
37 By way of example, Igor Studennikov, a Russia ambassador to Latvia
has said, “We are not demanding anything that would go beyond the
European standards, we only want that the Russian-speaking population
of Latvia would have the same rights as, for example, the Hungarians in
Slovakia and the Albanians in Macedonia, or as the ethnic Germans in
Southern Tyrol”, Italy. Accessed October 1, 2009, http://www.mid.ru/bl.n
38 “Fury in Baltics over Yeltsin Troops Decree”. Accessed October 1, 2009,
39 Julianne Smith, The Nato-Russia Relationship: Defining Moment or Déjà Vu?
(Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), 2008).
40 “Latvia disagrees with history as seen by Russia’s Foreign Ministry”. Accessed
October 1, 2009, http://en.rian.ru/russia/20050505/39936600.html.
41 Lithuania, on the other hand, had actually gained quite a bit of territory as
a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, notably Vilnius.
42 Susanne M. Birgerson (2001) After the Breakup of a Multi-Ethnic Empire:
Russia, Successor States, and Eurasian Security (Westport, Connecticut:
Greenwood, 2001).
43 This is how the writer Gyula Illyes described it in Spirit and Violence from
1980, marking the 60th anniversary of the agreement: “Trianon to us
bears the meaning of a human slaughterhouse: it is there that every third
Hungarian was crushed into subsistence under foreign rule; it is there that
the territories of our native language were torn to pieces”. Translated by
Karoly Nagy. Accessed October 1, 2009, http://www.hungarian-history.hu/
44 Richard Frucht, ed., Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands,
and Culture (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005).
53 “Hovorte po slovensky!*”, The Economist, July 30 2009. Accessed 15 April
2014, http://www.economist.com/node/14140437.
54 Intriguingly, Czech speakers are exempted from the law. Luboš Palata, (2009)
“Slovak Language Law: Slap in the Face”, Transitions Online, July 14, 2009.
55 Wojciech Kostecki, “Prevention of Ethnic Conflict: Lessons from
Romania”, Berghof Occasional Papers 19 (2002).
56 Michael E. Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict
(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996).
57 Michael Stewart, “The Hungarian Status Law: A New European Form of
Transnational politics?”, Diaspora, 12 no 1 (2003): 67-102.
58 Rogers Brubaker, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a
Transylvanian Town (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
59 “Hungary has a Historic Duty to help Romania Enter the European
Union”, Hungarian PM Gyurcsany said in a press conference in
January 2005. Accessed October 1, 2009, http://www.mae.ro/index.
60 “Act LXII on Hungarians Living in Neighbouring Countries”, adopted by the
Hungarian Parliament on June 19 2001 and in force since January 1 2002.
61 However, some of the rhetoric was clearly — and probably intentionally
— provocative. The Hungarian prime minister at the time, Viktor Orbán,
later explained his own intention as to ‘begin the process of national
reunification [of ] the Hungarian nation’, Stewart, 2003.
62 Irina Culic, “Dilemmas of Belonging: Hungarians from Romania”,
Nationalities Papers, 34 no 2 (2006): 175-200.
63 Accessed October 1, 2009, http://www.venice.coe.int/docs/2002/
64 Accessed October 1, 2009, http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/coe21/publish/
no9_ses/09_hornburg.pdf. On the other hand, the purpose of Article
13 — which also has given birth to the Race and Equality Directive — is to
combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or
belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
65 Quoted in Michael Stewart, 2003.
66 Stephen Deets, “The Hungarian Status Law and the Specter of
Neomedievalism in Europe”, Ethnopolitics, 7 no 2—3 (2008): 195—215.
45 A figure that includes some 10 million Hungarian citizens, 3 million in
neighboring states and approximately 2 million worldwide.
67 Roy Allison, “The Russian Case for Military Intervention in Georgia:
International Law, Norms and Political Calculation”, European Security, 18
no 2 (2009),
46 Hayword R. Alker, Ted Robert Gurr and Kumar Rupesinghe, Journeys
Through Conflict: Narratives and Lessons (Boulder & New York: Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, 2001).
68 “Address by President of the Russian Federation”. Accessed February 18,
2015 (http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/6889).
69 Kymlicka and Opalski, Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported?.
47 During the early stages of the war in Yugoslavia, Prime Minister Antall
suggested that the border agreement with Yugoslavia might no longer
be valid if the country that signed it, Yugoslavia, were no longer to exist.
Erin K. Jenne, Ethnic Bargaining: The Paradox of Minority Empowerment,
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007).
70 Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1977); Jan Zielonka, Europe as Empire:
the Nature of the Enlarged European Union (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2006).
48 Bennett Kovrig, “Partitioned Nation: Hungarian Minorities in Central
Europe”, in The New European Diasporas: National Minorities and Conflict
in Eastern Europe, ed., Michael Mandelbaum (New York: Council on
Foreign Relations, 2000).
49 Ibid.
50 Adrian Hyde-Price, The International Politics of East Central Europe
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996).
51 Lynn M. Tesser, “The Geopolitics of Tolerance: Minority Rights Under EU
Expansion in East-Central Europe”, East European Politics & Societies, Vol.
17:3 (2003): 483—532.
52 ‘Slovakia and Hungary “Dangerously Close to Playing with Fire”.
Accessed October 1, 2009, http://www.spiegel.de/international/
71 This is indeed what Viktor Orbán was arguing at the time: ‘the Europe of
national communities’. Quoted in Zsuzsa Csergo and James M. Goldgeier,
“Nationalist Strategies and European Integration”, Perspectives on Politics,
1 (2004): 21-37.
72 Myra A. Waterbury, “Uncertain Norms, Unintended Consequences: The
Effects of European Union Integration on Kin-state Politics in Eastern
Europe”, Ethnopolitics, 7 no 2—3 (2008); Galbreath and McEvoy, The
European Minority Rights Regime.
73 W
ider Europe — Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our
Eastern and Southern Neighbours, Communication from the Commission
to the Council and the European Parliament, Commission of the European
Communities, Brussels, 11.3.2003, COM(2003) 104 final. Accessed October
7, 2009, http://eeas.europa.eu/enp/pdf/pdf/com03_104_en.pdf.
conference reports
Ukraine: Thinking Together
“History Does Not Happen by Itself”
n international solidarity–cum–discussion conference concerning the Maidan revolution and its effects
took place almost one year ago, in Kiev, during five
days in May 2014. ”Ukraine: Thinking Together” was
arranged by the Krytyka Institute in Kiev, in cooperation with
the American historian Timothy Snyder and Leon Wieseltier
from the American news magazine The New Republic. The conference featured over 50 panelists, of whom 21 were Ukrainian,
and gathered over 300 participants in the big hall of the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine in Kiev. Seven panel seminars were
arranged in sequence around specific questions, and in different
languages, simultaneously interpreted to the auditorium.
The first panel, conducted in Russian, had been asked to address the question “Do rights make us human?” The panel chose
to link the issue of human rights to values. Panelist Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow,
stated that in Russia, human rights are supposed to be defended
by the Constitution, but have in reality become powerless. The
Russian writer Victor Erofeyev defined Euromaidan and the
conflict with Russia as a war about values and thus an existential
conflict. While the Cold War was about life or death, “this war
is about how to live”. Erofeyev emphasized that the West is too
heavily focused on the western parts of Russia, which is predominantly pro-Western. But now, “The strong center strikes back
in its archaic Russian tradition — the world is our enemy, but we
are closer to God. Europe has lost its soul, but we have our soul
Deploring that nuances perish during conflict, the historian
and journalist Konstantin Skorkin reported that, in Luhansk,
many students who previously discussed matters in terms of
nuances and complications, now see only black and white. However, it seems clear that many in Eastern Ukraine want the old
system back. While liberty was welcomed after the dissolution of
the Soviet Union, the development of more and more European
values in the country has alienated many, who now have turned
back towards Russia. Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association
of Jewish Organisations and Communities in Ukraine, suggested
that the country encompasses two different identities, a European one and a Eurasian one. All elections have followed this
division. While the line between them moves, the difference
stays. Furthermore, one identity should not be imposed on the
other — they should meet and respect each other. “Ukrainians in
the East need time; Ukrainians in the West did not become European overnight.”
Maintaining that “history repeats itself”, Karel Schwarzenberg declared, “Now we are back to where we were in the
twentieth century, where peace is a dream.” After having fought
many years to destroy the Ukrainian business sector, Russia now
needs to be confronted, he argued. While Putin, according to
Schwarzenberg, “has been successful in lifting the army out of its
shambles, he still sees that he would never survive a military conflict with the West, so he developed this new tactic.” Mykhailo
Minakov, director of the Krytyka Institute, concluded that now
there is a genuine opportunity to establish a third Ukrainian Republic. The most important task at the moment is constructive
destruction, bringing down the old system. Oligarchs already
seem to be moving back into their positions of power and corruption, according to Minakov.
Conference initiator Timothy Snyder also emphasized that “we
can make history, and through our analysis, we can contribute to
change — history does not
happen by itself.” Now that
this revolution has happened, we should expect a
counterrevolution. And as
the Maidan revolution had
a European character, the
counterrevolution must
also be European. What
Putin is offering “is his
Timothy Snyder was one of the
alternative kind of democenthusiastic organizers of the conference.
racy: in effect, fascism. We
need to be present; this is
an important opportunity to meet his offer. And we need to keep
together the Europe of Faith and the Europe of Rules, the two
must not be split.” To this, the French philosopher and author
Bernard-Henri Lévy commented, “Vladimir Putin is a chess
“While we think that Russia is attacking Ukraine,” opined the
Ukrainian philosopher and essayist Volodymyr Yermolenko,
“the Russians feel that they are counterattacking in response to
another attack. They refer to Hitler and Napoleon, and would
probably ultimately be prepared to march on Berlin and Paris.”
He also emphasized that the issue now in Ukraine should not be
federalization at all but decentralization, which is badly needed
in the country. Closing the fourth panel, Bernard Kouchner
noted that Putin is supported by both the radical right and the
radical left in the EU. “We need to shock Europe. We should
speak about European values — why did we create the EU in the
first place? All this is actually being challenged by Russia today,
something that may ultimately lead to war.” ≈
krister eduards
Former counselor at the Swedish Embassy in Moscow.
Note: A full report on the conference in Kiev can be found on
the Baltic Worlds website.
Snyder’s conference is still talked about, one year later. We saw it coming!
conference reports
Revolutions and their aftermath.
A year after Euromaidan
he round table “Revolutions and their aftermath: A
year after Euromaidan” was dedicated to the first anniversary after the mass protests in Ukraine. The scholars from Ukraine, Germany, and Sweden who specialize in history, regionalism, gender, social movements, and mass
media gathered together to discuss the legacies of the events that
led to the regime change in the country.
From the perspective of the use of history, Euromaidan became a space for a re-actualization of the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung — coming to terms with the past, as the historian from Ruhr University Olena Petrenko argued. On the example
of the use of history during the street protests, she demonstrated
how Soviet and anti-Soviet legacies — respectively represented
through such historical topics as Cossackdom and the Ukrainian
Insurgent Army (UPA) — reinforced each other in producing
revolutionary symbols for mobilizing purposes.
The sociologist from Kyiv Mohyla Academy Tamara Martseniuk stressed that through studying women’s participation in
mass protests one can better understand the diversity of Euromaidan. It proved to be a heterogeneous space with grassroots
initiatives where traditional gender stereotypes were both
reaffirmed and contested. Commenting on women’s role in the
protests, Martsenuik emphasized that women were not helpers (as they are often perceived) but makers of the revolution.
She concluded that as a result of Euromaidan one can observe
a general shift in Ukrainian society. In contrast to the situation
after the Orange Revolution, when the people lost their interest
in self-organization the moment Yushchenko came to power,
since Euromaidan people feel their own responsibility for their
future, thus the locus of control is internalized and solutions to
problems are looked for inside the community and not outside,
in the government, etc.
In her presentation on regionalism in Ukraine, the political
scientist Valentyna Romanova argued that the reason for the
mass protests was the lack of institutions which could bring the
change demanded by civil society. One of the most obvious consequences of Euromaidan was the beginning of decentralization
which is seen by many experts as a necessary step towards the
democratization of the country.
One of the leading Ukrainian intellectuals, Mykola Riabchuk,
stressed that we should be careful when speaking about Ukraine
as a community divided along ethnic or language lines. If there
is a division, then it is based on value differences. He argued that
the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Russian invasion contributed to the consolidation of the nation: what we can observe
now in Ukraine is the civic nation in the process of formation.
The Swedish journalist Torgny Hinnemo saw a huge discrepancy between what he learned from books on Ukraine and what
he observed in Ukraine during his 25 years of travelling through
the country. He stressed that the language and ethnic issues are
too exaggerated in the literature, while people are more concerned with corruption and low standards of living.
Jakob Hedenskog from the Swedish Defense Research Agency
argued that, according to international observers, the Russian
intervention in Ukraine had nothing to do with defense of Russian compatriots. It was a geopolitical move that was seen by
Russia to be in its own geopolitical interest. Yet, the longer the
war continues, the more expensive it gets for Russia to keep it going. He stressed that by its aggression in Ukraine Russia is trying
to destroy the European security architecture. Thus, what is going on in Ukraine is directly connected to Europe, but the leaders of the European Union often underestimate the impact of the
Russian-Ukrainian conflict on their own countries.
The round table contributed to a deeper understanding of
events, too complex to put into clear-cut categories and well-established explanatory schemata of
Ukraine as a divided community or as an arena of
geopolitical power games. ≈
yuliya yurchuk
PhD in history, currently at CBEES, Södertörn University.
Note: The round table was organized by the Ukraine
Research Group under the patronage of the Center
for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), and
financed by the Baltic Sea Foundation (Östersjöstiftelsen). A full-length report can be found on the web.
Euromaidan protesters fill central
Kyiv on December 1, 2013.
Photo: Nwssa Gnatoush
& female participation
& intersectionality
Male roles in
comic series
images of power
Masculinity in
West & East
Translating the global
gender agenda
Gender &
Baltic Worlds special section
Illustration: Ragni Svensson
Guest editors: Liudmila Voronova,
Ekaterina Kalinina, and Ulrika Dahl
Illustration: Ragni Svensson
Special section 1–2/20
Introduction. Gender and post-Soviet discourses
uring the last decade, the debates about social transformations in post-Soviet countries
have mainly been focused on
whether these processes have come to an
end, what kind of trajectory they have or
had, and, most importantly, whether it
is possible to place countries so different
from one another under the common rubric “post-Soviet”.1
In this issue, we take up this discussion
using the framework of gender studies,
providing the reader with the perspectives of researchers who have lived or
worked in the “post-Soviet countries” and
whose research is primarily concerned
with that space.
The idea to put together this special
Baltic Worlds section, “Gender and postSoviet discourses”, was much inspired by
a workshop with the same name that took
place in May 2013 at Södertörn University.2 We realized that despite the numerous
academic and public discussions about
gender transitions in the post-Soviet and,
more broadly, post-communist and postsocialist space.3 there is an urgent need
to reach a deeper understanding of the
everyday discursive practices implicated
in these changes. We follow the lead suggested by the prior research in this field
by discussing the presence of history in
what are now defined as “post” discourses, by talking about the Western-Eastern
symbolic axis that runs through both the
cultural space and the academic perspectives, and by highlighting the political
nature of gender issues.
The Soviet past appears in the articles
of this issue as a common denominator
that apparently has never dissolved and
now more and more visibly determines
the present, defines the everyday in the
most bizarre and unexpected forms. The
authors highlight the different sides of
what Alexander Etkind and several other
scholars refer to as the “conservative
revolution” of the beginning of the 21st
century.4 This revolution, as we see it,
becomes the third one to mark the postSoviet countries as belonging to the same
space: although scholars have talked
about the “post” countries in relation to
the two modernist revolutions of the 20th
century — the socialist/communist and
the capitalist,5 — it is this third, countercounterrevolution that to a large extent
forms the gender discourses of today. The
main aim of this revolution, as we understand it, is to articulate the uniqueness
of the given national culture by referring
to “roots” and “origins”, which in many
countries of the post-Soviet space in fact
leads to a strengthening of traditionalism
and patriarchy.6 Paradoxically, in this
search for originality, the countries use
the same technologies and tools as every
other country and follow the global trend
of establishing their “unique national
hat does this tendency
mean to the scholars focusing on gender issues? Our
contributors show that
gender today becomes not only a political issue, but also a political trigger. It
becomes a platform for political domination and ideology mainstreaming as well
as for political activism and engagement.
Whether our authors talk about online
political activists, the portrayal of Fathers
of the Nation, or comic books and education, gender appears as a conjunction
between the past and the present, where
the established present seems not to
recognize the past, but at the same time
eagerly reenacts the past discourses of
These discourses of domination are
constructed through various dimensions. In this issue, we try to provide an
intersectional perspective on gender in
post-Soviet discourses in which the contributors focus not only on gender, but
also on class, ethnic, racial, and religious
background, and on sexual identity.
The issue opens with an article by Madina Tlostanova, who looks at the importance and specificity of the geopolitical
positioning in postsocialist gendered discourses using Central Asia and the Caucasus as graphic examples and highlighting
the intersection of the postsocialist and
the postcolonial.
Ilkin Mehrabov continues the discussion on the southern Caucasus by
addressing the political challenges and
threats to female online activists and
journalists in Azerbaijan. His main focus
is on state surveillance apparatuses, both
online and offline.
The role of the state in defining the
limits of women’s presence in the public
sphere and public space is also discussed
by Ekaterina Vikulina, who turns to the
political meanings behind the prevalence
of paternalistic images in Soviet and postSoviet photography.
Daria Dmitrieva continues the discussion of representations of masculinity by
turning to early post-Soviet comics, discovering that comic art becomes a form of
sublimation of post-Soviet trauma.
espite the evident need for
research in the subfield of
masculinity studies, thanks
to Tetyana Bureychak’s thorough overview, we learn that masculinity
studies have not succeeded in becoming
established as an academic discipline
in Ukraine — nor in the rest of the postSoviet countries.
Rounding out the issue is Yulia Grad-
skova’s essay, which reveals some of the
possible reasons behind the problems we
have highlighted in this introduction, one
of which is gender equality being “lost in
translation” into national languages and
local discourses.
We are delighted that this issue appears as a forum for both emerging and
established scholars who are engaging in
an exciting discussion about gender and
post-Soviet discourses. ≈
Liudmila Voronova, Ekaterina Kalinina
Department of Media and Communication,
Södertörn University.
Europe and Russia (New York: Haworth, 2005);
Elena Gapova, Almira Usmanova, and Andrea
Peto, eds., Gendernye istorii Vostochnoi Evropy
[Gender histories of Eastern Europe] (Minsk:
EHU, 2002), etc. The most recent publication
is a special issue of the journal Feminist
Media Studies on post-socialist femininities:
see Nadia Kaneva, “Mediating Post-Socialist
Femininities: Contested Histories and
Visibilities”, Feminist Media Studies 15—1 (2015):
1—17, doi: 10.1080/14680777.2015.988389.
4 Alexander Etkind and Alexander
Filippov, “Konservativnaya revolutsiya:
nezavershennaya epokha” [Conservative
revolution: an unfinished era], Gefter, January
28, 2015, accessed February 17, 2015, http://
5 Susanne Brandstadter, “Transitional Spaces:
Postsocialism as a Cultural Process”, Critique
of Anthropology 27—2 (2007): 131—145, doi:
1The post-Soviet space includes 15 independent
states that emerged from the Soviet Union
after its dissolution in 1991. The 15 states
form five groups: the Russian Federation
(recognized as a successor state to the
USSR); the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and
Lithuania; East-Central Europe — Ukraine,
Belarus and Moldova; the Southern Caucasus
— Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia; and
Central Asia — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
2 The workshop “Gender and Post-Soviet
Discourses” was sponsored by the Centre for
Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES) at
Södertörn University and by the academic
network CERES (http://www.helsinki.fi/
3 See e.g. Ildikó Asztalos Morell et al., eds.,
Gender Transitions in Russia and Eastern
Europe (Gdansk: Gondolin, 2005); Natalia
Stepanova and Elena Kochkina, eds.,
Gendernaya rekonstruktsiya politicheskikh
sistem [Gender reconstruction of political
systems], (Saint Petersburg: Aleteya, 2004);
Alexandar Stulhofer and Theo Sandfort, eds.,
Sexuality and Gender in Postcommunist Eastern
6 Anna Temkina and Elena Zdravomyslova,
“Gender’s Crooked Path: Feminism Confronts
Russian Patriarchy”, Current Sociology 62–2
(2014): 253–270, doi: 10.1177/0011392113515566.
guest editors
Liudmila Voronova
MA in journalism, Moscow
State University. Defended
her doctoral dissertation Gendering in Political Journalism: A
Comparative Study of Russia
and Sweden in 2014. Her research interests
lie within the intersection of gender media
studies, political communication research,
and comparative studies of journalism
Ekaterina Kalinina
PhD in media and communication studies, Södertörn University. Visiting researcher at
Copenhagen University and
Aarhus University. Currently
38 Postcolonial post-Soviet trajectories
and intersectional coalitions, Madina
44 Gendered surveillance and media
usage in post-Soviet space: the case
of Azerbaijan, Ilkin Mehrabov.
48 Paternalistic images of power in Soviet
photography, Ekaterina Vikulina.
57 Searching for new male identity: going
west or going back? Daria Dmitrieva.
64 Studies on men and masculinities
in Ukraine: the dynamics of
(under)development, Tetyana Bureychak.
69 Translating “gender equality”:
northwestern Russia meets the global
gender equality agenda, Yulia Gradskova.
working with the questions of Russian patriotism, biopolitics, nostalgia, and national
identity. Also manages cultural projects and
conduct research on cross-cultural artistic
practices in Nordkonst.
Ulrika Dahl
Cultural anthropologist and
associate professor of gender
studies at Södertörn University. Her research centers on
feminist and queer theory,
European ethnography, and histories of gender studies, among other things. Currently
she leads the project Queer(y)ing kinship in
the Baltic region.
and intersectional coalitions
by Madina Tlostanova
ith the collapse of the Soviet Union, many nations
involuntarily), and sometimes in yet another direction of deand ethnicities artificially collected under the umWesternization. The European ex-colonies of the USSR are able
brella of the Soviet empire — the so-called Second
to join Europe, albeit as poor cousins, whereas the situation of
World of the Cold War era — have started their
non-European ex-colonies is complicated by racial and religious
centrifugal movement away from the metropolis in quest of other
othering. Made into the honorary Second World in the Soviet
vassals, partners, and zones of belonging and
era, today these people are rapidly slipping
influence. This process has been going on for
into the position of the global South, with its
over two decades. Today, not only the CIS but The article considers the centrifugal
own human hierarchy, where the best places
trajectories of the postsocialist world in
also Russia itself with its remaining colonies
of the world proletariat have already been
the direction of the secondary Europe
(e.g., the Northern Caucasus) seems to have
taken by the ex-colonies of the modern Westlost all of its cultural bonds, except for linguis- and the global South as seen through
ern empires. Consequently, the non-Eurothe prism of gender relations and at the
tic ones. There are no values or goals left to
pean Soviet ex-colonies have no choice but
intersection of the postsocialist and
link the millions who had the misfortune of
to reproduce their doubly colonized status,
the postcolonial. The author focuses
being born in this huge and uncontrollable
or to build coalitions with de-Westernizing
on the importance and specificity of
territory. Yet a number of scholars still insist
China, Malaysia, the Arab Emirates, or Turgeopolitical positioning in postsocialon the existence of some common postkey. The latter option does not automatically
ist gendered discourses using Central
Soviet imaginary, most probably doomed to
guarantee a better attitude on the part of the
Asia and the Caucasus as graphic
be erased, museumized, and/or commercialcoalition partners, but it at least leaves beexamples. Some attention is given to
ized with the stage exit of the last generation
hind the old Orientalism and progressivism
of people formed in the USSR. This imaginary the analysis of border tricksterism as it
that stalled relations with both Russia and
is expressed in gender theorizing comis grounded in a specific spatial history, genthe West. It is important to take into account
ing from the non-European post-Soviet
erating unhomed subjects forced to survive
the gaps between the official politics of the
ex-colonies, and to the issue of the
in the doomed spatial-temporal localities
post-Soviet states and their neocolonial leadcontinuous invisibility of these theories
of post-dependence: “the prison-bitched
ers, and the grass-roots social movements
country where no repentance ever took place and practices for the larger feminist
that are connected with common people’s
frame – both Western and non-Western
and people submissively forgave and forgot
efforts to survive, and that lead to the mass
— which continues to hinder successful migration and diasporic existence of miltheir humiliation”, according to Alexei Gercoalitions.
man1 and the portrayal in his disturbing film
lions of dispensable lives.
KEY WORDS: postcolonial condition,
Khrustalyov, My Car (1998).
In this context it is important to take into
post-Soviet women, intersectionalPost-Soviet centrifugal processes take
account the politics of location in knowledge
ity, feminist coalitions, geopolitics of
place with varied success as courses change
production, in Adrienne Rich’s words,2 the
situated knowledges, as Donna Harraway
from the neoliberal West to Russia (often
Scene from
Alexei German’s
film Khrustalyov,
My Car.
would have it,3 the “small stories, situated in specific local contexts” according to Nina Lykke,4 or the pluriversality in the formulation of the decolonial option.5 Pluriversality is a coexistence
of many interacting and intersecting non-abstract universals
grounded in the geopolitics and body politics of knowledge, being, and perception, in a conscious effort to reconnect theory
and theorists with experience, with those who are discriminated
against, to reinstate the experiential nature of knowledge and
the origin of all theory in the human lifeworld and experience.
The decolonial option stresses our inescapable localization in
the colonial matrix of power that cannot be observed from the
outside — from the convenient vantage point of God or Reason
— as the products of the colonial matrix promoted through its
enunciators. They present their option as an abstract universal,
hiding its locality and appropriating diversity in the form of its
control by universal epistemology as demonstrated in numerous multicultural projects. In the pluriversal world where many
worlds coexist and interact, countless options communicate
with one another instead of promoting one abstract universal
good for all. These options intersect, sometimes inside our
bodies and selves, and each locus of intersection is an option.
Decolonial pluriversality is parallel to intersectionality, but operates on a different level: its target is not the constellation of race,
gender, class, and other power asymmetries, but rather the aberration of the universal as such.
The geopolitics of knowledge
and the post-Soviet women
Geopolitical positioning has long been an important element of
intersectionality as exemplified in women of color and transnational feminisms. Nina Lykke points out that the analysis of geopolitical positioning “requires a self-reflexive stance on global/
local locations not only in relation to crude and rather abstract
categories such as East-West/North-South [...] it is necessary to
engage in much more detailed reflections on unequal relations
between nations, regions, mother tongues, and so on and to analyze the ways in which they generate various kinds of problematic methodological particularisms or universalisms in research”.6
This observation is particularly true in relation to the experience of the post-Soviet women who are today either aspiring, in
the endless catching-up logic, the status of the second-rate gendered subjects of the First World, or sliding from the position of
the honorary Second World to that of the global South, marked
by the secondary colonial difference and acting as the subalterns
of the subaltern empire Russia, multiplying the numbers of dispensable lives unable and unwilling to fully share the postcolonial stance. From the specific Soviet modernity with its own colonialism, we shift to the situation of global, neoliberal colonialism, equalizing in a way the ex-colonizers with the ex-subalterns,
casting us all out from modernity and making the postsocialist
subject silent and invisible,7 yet able to retain the internal power
asymmetries and discriminations not always visible to the external observer. For instance, the post-Soviet racial taxonomy and
normalized epistemic asymmetry still tags everyone with Asian
or Caucasus blood as underdeveloped and arrested “savages”
unfit to theorize any experience including our own (particularly
if this experience includes an obvious racial and gender discrimination on the part of the Russian state and the Russian majority in power) and dictates that the non-European, post-Soviet
gender theorists occupy the position of native informants and
diligent pupils of their Russian and/or European teachers.
An Egyptian writer and gender activist, Nawal el Saadawi, detected a similar syndrome in a Wellesley conference on women
Photo: Arian Zwegers/Flickr
Azerbaijani Soviet poster.
Shah-i-Zinda, Samarkand, local girls displaying Central Asian hijab fashion.
and development: “The well-meaning US organizers . . . had
no idea how maternalistic and condescending they sounded, in
both words and attitudes, when they read papers or talked at the
participants, telling them how to behave . . . . For the US organizers, power was not the issue, because they had it, and thought
it normal for us not to participate . . . .” The organizers had the
capacity to turn the Third World women’s protests into “personal
defects”.8 Something similar is to be found in the post-Soviet space
with its silences and omissions, unspoken resentment and continued scorn between Russian and non-Russian, secondary European and non-European gendered subjects. These non-Europeans
are often even less aware of their position and the discrimination
they face, and less ready to formulate a specific stance, than European women of color are. This is an indicator of thoroughly colonized minds and bodies marked by one maniacal urge to become
a peripheral part of someone else’s modernity, even at the expense of their own kind. These people, in contrast to many honest
and open-minded European feminists, are not really expressing
any interest in coalitions with the Orientalized gendered Others,
but instead stick to their own agendas which belatedly repeat and
reproduce the Western ones. In the case of post-Soviet inequalities, intersectionality can hardly act as a reconciling device in the
way it can in Europe, where anti-racist gendered migrants claim
it as a weapon and a way of identifying the ongoing conflict with
European white feminism.9
The local history of the non-European ex-colonies of the
Russian empire and the USSR — the Janus-faced second-class
empire, marked by external imperial difference and double colonial difference USSR — generates specific multilayered identifications, modes of survival and re-existence, and intersectional
tangents growing out of the multiple dependencies on modernity/coloniality in its Western, and also its insecure Russian and
Soviet forms, as well as complex and often contradictory religious and ethnic cultural configurations. They disturb the simple
binarism of the modern/colonial gender matrix as they multiply
and distort many familiar categories and discourses such as Orientalism, racism, Eurocentrism, imperial and colonial masculinity and femininity, and colonial gender tricksterism evolving in
the domain of individual agency and social change. The specific
Soviet experience of an other emancipation and efforts to create
its own New Woman in her metropolitan and colonial versions,
grounded in the double standards and reticence that was typical of the whole Soviet system, places the gendered subjects of
the ex-colonies of Russia and the USSR into conditions that are
not quite postcolonial and not entirely postsocialist, and that
cannot be attributed to race, ethnicity, or religion, nor to ideology and class. Yet in the continuing situation of epistemic power
asymmetries, the nuances of the Soviet gender trajectories,
to say nothing of the presocialist local genealogies of women’s
struggles and resistance, tend to be erased.
Maria Matsuda urges us to “ask the other question” in order to
avoid the inevitable blind spots in intersectional investigations.
She suggests that we include categories that would not appear
obvious in this or that particular study, which of course enriches
the complexity and subtlety of intersectional analysis: “When I
see something that looks racist, I ask, ‘Where is the patriarchy in
this?’ When I see something that looks sexist, I ask, ‘Where is the
heterosexism in this?’ When I see something that looks homophobic, I ask, ‘Where is the class interest in this?’”10 This is crucial
for any effort to understand the situation of non-Russian women
from the former and present colonies of the Russian/Soviet
empire. A good example in this case is the flat and frozen interpretation of veiled Caucasus women exclusively through terrorist
discourses as black widows and potential suicide bombers.
The hijab and the trajectory
of Central Asian women
For a limited number of Caucasus women, the hijab indeed
becomes a sign of political-cum-religious identity, as in other
Muslim locales in the world. Yet there is a larger group of women
in the Caucasus who choose to veil themselves for reasons
other than religion or politics. In this case we find a specific
intersection of class, religion, and ethnicity which does not easily yield to the simple “but for” logic. These women obviously
experience discrimination when they travel to Moscow or other
predominantly Russian cities. Yet in their native republics they
are often marked by the hijab as possessing a certain social
status, not anything religious as such, but rather a piety whose
Muslim interpretation mingles with the ethnic-national traditional ethical codes. These are mostly middle class women for
whom it is prestigious to cover themselves. (In some cases, it is a
necessary condition for a good marriage; in other, it is a play on
a stylized archaization, the construction of a halal self, similar
to subcultural youth identities, behind which often stands an
urge to become rooted in an essentialized or escapist identity.)
Ostracized as potential terrorists in the Moscow metro, in their
own world they would show a condescending attitude to those
women who cannot afford a good, expensive hijab and who simply must work to support their families. Discriminated against
in one world, they themselves become discriminators in a different world. This logic was pointed out by Patricia Hill Collins,
who wrote that in the matrix of domination there are no pure
victims or oppressors and the oppressed often becomes the
oppressor.11 This new Caucasian hijab fashion defies most other
interpretations of the hijab because there was and is no traditional, unmarked hijab here. There are only political and boutique versions of hijab in the modern Caucasus since veiling has
come only recently, and from the outside, to this region — one of
secondary and late Islamization, where Islam is hybridized with
local polytheistic and often feminocratic cosmologies.
of their social status and rights by Russian and Soviet colonization, and in other cases first discriminated against by their own
ethnic national and religious environments and later accorded
a number of rights thanks to colonization and Sovietization, the
ancestors of these future post-Soviet slaves traveled the forced
path of Soviet modernism with its double standards, racism, othering, violent emancipation, and low glass ceilings in relation to
all non-Russian women, but also with such socialist advantages
as universal education (although Russified, and not always of
good quality), minimal social guarantees within the Soviet colonial mono-economic model, limited vertical social mobility for
national minorities in accordance with Soviet multiculturalism,
and honorary membership in the Second World. It is crucial to
keep this in mind when tracing the trajectory of Central Asian
women towards their contemporary condition of neo-slavery
and their firm placement in the global South, without a share in
its political agency and epistemology.
There is one more group of Caucasus and Central Asian
women that does not fit the usual discrimination dichotomies. I
define them as tricksters and border dwellers who switch codes
and identities as a way to survive and resist. These people often
belong to the middle-class educated strata of the post-Soviet
societies; they are the postcolonial products of the Soviet multicultural policies who often grew up in the metropolis, and,
through their linguistic and cultural competence, can easily
belong to mainstream society, yet are constantly reminded of
their inferiority and eventually choose not to assimilate. Such
people experience discrimination in subtler but no less profound ways. Moreover, their assumed privileges, in comparison
with those of illegal migrant slaves, turn into more sophisticated
derogations on academic, cultural, and intellectual levels. The
very existence of this group of people is not convenient to many
Western and Russian researchers as it destroys their progressivist taxonomy, which is grounded in Orientalist stereotypes, and
pigeonholes Central Asian and Caucasus women as stereotypical
downtrodden and retarded Orientals/Muslims, or as Soviet modernized party activists and Westernized emancipated gendered
subjects — invariably rejecting their culture to become New
Women according to the standards of Soviet or Western modPhoto: Quinn Dombrowski/wikimedia commons
By contrast, the Central Asians are universally seen in modernday Russia as dirt poor, and are placed lowest on the scale of
humanity, to the point of erasing the gender markers so that the
so-called illegal women migrants have a status akin to that of
the African-American slaves: these women are seen as biologically female, yet culturally and socially subhuman. These bare
lives are used and abused in compulsory long workdays, sexual
trafficking, and as producers of children to be sold as live goods.
The religious factor is completely erased from their othering,
since religion is a cultural marker and these dispensable lives
are located outside culture. They were born and made to exist in
the grip of global colonialism in its different versions — the neocolonial world of Central Asia and the post-imperial (and also
neocolonial) world of metropolitan Moscow. Any serious intersectional study would have to take into account the diachronic
element of these women’s positioning — their trajectory towards
today’s condition, which is different from that of African-American women or Latinas in the US. In some cases clearly deprived
Feminist graffiti in St Petersburg: “Cooking and fashion – that’s NOT
ernism.12 If Central Asian or Caucasus gender theorists are ever
allowed into the international feminist club, it is usually in the
capacity of meek apprentices of the Western gurus, who trade
their independent thinking for a comfortable place in Western
universities, and, despite experiencing Orientalism in their everyday academic lives, refuse to question the generally accepted
Western scientific approaches, defending them as objective and
uncontaminated by locality and/or ideology.
Postcolonial gender theorists
mimicking Western feminism
The few existing investigations of gender issues in the non-European Soviet ex-colonies seldom depart from the West-centric,
fundamentally Orientalist yardstick and universalized set of
concepts and assumptions for analyzing non-Western gendered
Others. Many Western specialists reproduce this unconsciously.
Their Russian clones follow the incurable Russian penchant for
mimicking the West and reproducing its theoretical paradigms
applied to local material, yet at the same time retain their old
role as mediators and translators of modernism into the nonEuropean colonies, compensating for their own inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West in the persistent habit of teaching colonial
Others how to be. The post-Soviet ex-colonial Others are the
most promising group of researchers, having all the ingredients
for an insightful analysis of their local histories and contemporary struggles. Yet they are too often victims of the old parochial
epistemic regimes that assume that knowledge is produced in
the West, or in a few exceptional cases, in Russia, and agree to
play the role of native informants or diligent pupils of Western
and/or Russian feminism, reproducing derivative discourses
delegitimizing any previous models of gendered resistance.
The obvious reason for this is economic and institutional. The
massive indoctrination with Western feminism, supported by
grants and accompanied by particular ideological demands in the
first post-Soviet years, resulted in the emergence of many gender
centers and programs willing to start from scratch, as if there had
been no Soviet history of gender struggles. Or, in some cases,
the history was acknowledged, yet misinterpreted by the mostly
metropolitan post-Soviet scholars utilizing Western approaches
such as post-Lacanian psychoanalysis. This syndrome is obviously
a manifestation of a new kind of mind-colonization, which has
resulted in an unhealthy self-orientalizing and self-negation on the
part of the ex-colonial Others 13 that is hard to resolve.
Today, when Russia is rapidly turning into a fundamentalist police state, any type of feminism, and particularly the gendered
forms of political and social activism, raise suspicions in the corridors of power. Practically all post-Soviet feminist organizations
in Russia are now either banned or harassed as “foreign agents”.
These unfavorable conditions further postpone the possibility of
any intersectional coalitions and alliances. The miniscule islands
of institutionalized academic gender studies and the exceedingly
moderate and conciliatory state-supported gender institutions
abstain with increasing frequency from any independent theorizing, preferring to collect statistical facts and apply someone else’s
methods to the analysis of mythologized post-Soviet reality.
In the Caucasus and Central Asia, Soviet modernism is replaced with either the Western progressive model or the peddling of nationalist discourses characteristic of young postcolonial nations that permit only specific ideas and propagandistic
models of national culture, mentality, creativity, and religiosity.
The complex indigenous cosmologies, epistemologies, ethics,
and gender models discordant with modernism and colonialism
are erased or negatively coded, even in the works of indigenous
scholars, who are forced to buy their way into academia by conforming to Western mainstream gender research. So the tripartite scheme of the colonial and ex-colonial post-Soviet gendered
Other persists: it sees women as forever climbing the stairs of
modernity — from traditionalism through the Soviet half-traditional, half-modern model to the Western liberated female.14 In
contrast with Chinese gender theorists, who refused to walk the
path of universal feminism wearing Western shoes uncomfortable for their feet — for the simple reason that they had already
walked a long way on their own path,15 gender discourses in
peripheral Eurasia often remain in the grip of progressivism and
developmentalism. It thus becomes all the more important for
the ex-colonial, postsocialist gendered Others to get acquainted
with some alternative non-Western approaches to gender, to be
“indoctrinated” by the theorists and activists of the global South.
There is still little reciprocal interest between the ex-socialist
postcolonial world and the global South. The global South was
disappointed in the ex-socialist world, which failed to accomplish its expansionist mission. It also still codes “postsocialist”
in ideological, not racial terms. As a result, gender activists are
seldom ready to accept the equation between colonialism and
socialism. However, this misunderstanding is already vanishing
with the growth of contacts, dialog, and genuine interest on both
sides, and a conscious refusal to follow the logic of modernism
with its agonistic rivalry.
Intersectional coalitions, creolized
theories, and transversal dialogues
By finding intersections in our experience and sensibilities, we
can recreate a flexible gender discourse which would answer
local logic and specific conditions, yet would be able to find
resonance with other voices in the world. In order to do this, it
is necessary to take a border pluritopic position that negotiates
between modernity in its various forms and its internal and
external Others. Such a strategic intersectionality allows different de-essentialized flexible and dynamic groups to understand
each other in their mutual struggles. What is at work here is a
horizontalized transversal networking of different local histories and sensibilities mobilized through a number of common
yet pluriversal and open categories, such as colonialism or the
postsocialist imaginary. As a result, we can replace the frozen
categorical and negative intersectionality that often entraps the
groups of women it focuses on in a situation of sealed otherness
and victimhood, merely diagnosing their multiple oppressions,
with a more positive resistant and re-existent stance of attempting to build an alternative world with no Others. Such a positive
1 Alexei German, Germanologia: Alexei German o sebe i o svoei rabote
[Germanology: Alexei German on himself and his work]. Moscow: Drugoe
kino, 2008. Video. Accessed January 10, 2014. http://yandex.ru/video/
2 Adrienne Rich, “Notes Toward a Politics of Location”, in idem, Blood,
Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose 1978—1985 (London: Virago and Norton,
1986), 210—33.
3 Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in
Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives,” Feminist Studies 14,
no. 3 (1998): 575—599.
Frontline defenders’ view on the situation of NGOs in Russia.
intersectionality would develop in the direction of an open creolized theorizing as defined by Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei
Shih: “Creolized theory is open to vernacular grammars, methods, and lexicons [...] in the sense that it is a living practice that
precedes yet calls for theorization while resisting ossification.
Creolized theory enables unexpected comparisons and the use
of different analytical tools”. It becomes “urgent to attempt theory in the many idioms and languages that are congruent with our
diverse orientations as transnational producers of knowledge.”16
An open and critical intersectionality helps to make a shift
towards a more conscious agency, laying the groundwork for a
future solidarity. Transversal crossings of activism, theorizing,
and, often, contemporary art, are among the most effective tools
in social and political struggles against multiple oppressions and
in the creation of another world where many different worlds
would coexist and communicate with one another in a positive
and life-asserting intersectional way aimed at restoring human
dignity and the right to be different but equal. It is necessary to
further elaborate an open critical basis that would take into account the existing parallels between various echoing concepts
and epistemic grounds of gender discourses and would find an
interdisciplinary, or better yet, transdisciplinary language for
expressing oppositional gendered being, thinking, and agency
across the transcultural and transepistemic pluriversal loci.
Then the post-Soviet non-European gendered Others can finally
hope to exercise our right to keep our dignity and no longer
plead to be accepted by the West, the global North, or Russia.≈
Madina Tlostanova, professor of philosophy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, guest
researcher at CBEES, Södertörn University, in 2014.
4 Nina Lykke, Feminist Studies: A Guide to Intersectional Theory, Methodology
and Writing (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), 133.
5 Madina Tlostanova and Walter Mignolo, Learning to Unlearn: Decolonial
Reflections from Eurasia and the Americas (Columbus: Ohio State
University Press, 2012), 65.
Lykke, Feminist Studies, 55.
7 Jennifer Suchland, “Is Postsocialism Transnational?” Signs: Journal of
Women in Culture and Society 36, no. 4 (Summer 2011): 837—862.
8 Nawal el Saadawi, The Nawal el Saadawi Reader. (London and New York:
Zed Books, 1998), 148.
9 Paulina de los Reyes, Irene Molina and Diana Mulinari, “Intersektionalitet
som teoretisk ram vs mångfaldsperspektivets tomma retorik”
[Intersectionality as a theoretical framework vs. the empty rhetoric of
diversity], Kvinnovetenskaplig Tidskrift 24, no. 3–4 (2003): 160.
10 Maria Matsuda, “Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory out of
Coalition,” Stanford Law Review 43 no. 6 (1991): 1189.
11 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness,
and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2000 [1991]), 287.
12 For more details see my book: Madina Tlostanova, Gender Epistemologies
and Eurasian Borderlands (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
13 Svetlana Shakirova, “Zhenskoye Dvizheniye: ot neuteshitelnogo diagnoza
k effektivnym strategiiam” [Women’s movement: from the unconsoling
diagnosis to effective strategies], (2006). Central-Asian Gender Net.
Accessed January 10, 2014. www.genderstudies.info
14 Svetlana Shakirova, “Zhenschini.SU-Zhenschini.KZ: osobennosti
perekhoda” [From women.su to women.kz: features of transition], in
Gender: Traditsii i Sovremennost [Gender: traditions and the present]
(Dushanbe: Shkola Gendernogo Obrazovanija, 2005), 92—135.
15 Li Xiaojiang, Zouxiang nuren — Zhongguo (dalu) funu yenjiu jishi [Heading
towards women — a true account of women’s studies in mainland China],
(Hong Kong: Qingwen Shuwu, 1993), 104.
16 Francoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih, eds., The Creolization of Theory
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 39.
peer-reviewed essay
and media usage
in post-Soviet
The case of Azerbaijan
by Ilkin Mehrabov
he global magnum opus of smear campaigning against
me by sending me pictures from the footage and told
journalists happened in Azerbaijan when the sex
me to behave or I would be defamed. And, well, I didn’t
video of the famous anti-corruption journalist Khadija
behave. I made it public on my own and said I was being
Ismayilova was released on the Internet. Ismayilova,
known for her critical investigative reporting, is a journalist asKhadija Ismayilova’s case is an illuminating example of how
sociated with the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio
semi-authoritarian governments are engaging in disruptive
Liberty, where she frequently reports on the issues of misconmoves against disagreeable journalists and political opponents
duct, malfeasance, and unethical business dealings of governbased on the normative gender dynamics
ment officials and bureaucrats. As she herthat exist in various socio-cultural conself describes events in an interview given
This article is an attempt to explore the
texts. Within this scope, this article is an
to Ms. magazine, which she conducted
limits of gendered surveillance in Azerattempt to explore the limits of gendered
while in Los Angeles to receive the Courage
baijan – that is, how and to what extent
surveillance in Azerbaijan — that is, how
in Journalism Award from the International
female activists and women journalists are and to what extent female activists and
Women’s Media Foundation,
monitored and affected by the surveillative women journalists are monitored and
apparatuses of the state, both online and
affected by what I call the surveillative
the government planted a video
offline. The article also very briefly examapparatuses of the state, both online and
camera in my bedroom, and they
ines the gender dimension of Azerbaijani
offline. The article also tries, albeit very
filmed me when I was with my boypolitical activism and protest practices.
briefly, to investigate the gender dimension
friend. In Azerbaijan you are not
The questions of how gender stereotypes, of Azerbaijani political activism and protest
supposed to have a boyfriend, and
together with the more general problem of practices; and how the gender stereotypes,
you are not supposed to have sex if
the digital gender gap, are being used by
together with the more general problem
you are not married. Honor killings
the state authorities to control the public
of the digital gender gap, are being used
are still a huge problem in Azerbaiopinion are also addressed.
by the state authorities to control public
jan. I feel that was a calculation in
opinion. The conceptual framework of the
taping me in my bedroom. They
KEY WORDS: Gendered surveillance, surarticle is based upon two main sources of
did it in the hopes that someone in
veillative apparatuses, Khadija Ismayilova,
information: the netnographic narrativizamy family would arrange to kill me
tion of Khadija Ismayilova’s case in conafter seeing it. So they blackmailed
photo: Youth Media Centre, Baku
peer-reviewed essay
Young protesters being
detained by police after an
unsanctioned protest in the
center of Baku, October 2012.
junction with an electronic correspondence conducted with her
on March 30, 2013; and quantitative analysis of Internet connectivity data in Azerbaijan, obtained from the Caucasus Research
Resource Centers’ Caucasus Barometer 2011 Azerbaijan survey.2
Gender and offline surveillative
apparatuses in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan currently ranks 177 among the 196 studied countries
(Sweden and Norway head the list) in the Freedom of the Press
2013 report of the Freedom House;3 it ranks 156 among the 179
countries in the Reporters without Borders’ 2013 World Press
Freedom Index;4 and, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, is among the “top 10 worst jailers of journalists”5 in the
world. But what happened to Khadija Ismayilova was extremely
shocking even under the circumstances of a country where
people are accustomed to frequent mistreatment and jailing of
journalists. The blow was so low that, contrary to the blackmailers’ expectations — those who had demanded that she “abandon
her investigation of links between President Ilham Aliyev’s
family and lucrative building projects in Baku”6 — the journalist
was fully backed by the whole society, to the point that even the
“religious figures of the country [...] expressed their support”7
for her cause. According to Ismayilova, it was precisely because
this support came from the “mosque communities and other
conservatives”, who are otherwise “usually among her critics”,8 that her life was saved. As a result of the journalist’s keen
insistence in trying to uncover who was behind the attempt to
blackmail her with the sex video, events unfolded in a way such
that “Ismayilova did not hide. Instead, she tracked the letter to
a Moscow post office. She discovered curious wires inside her
apartment and then found the phone company worker hired to
install them”9 — and due to her investigations it was revealed that
the camera was set up in her bedroom in July 2011, almost eight
months before the blackmailing attempt took place. This incident caused a number of heated debates among the local and
global human rights and media advocacy groups, as
Ismayilova is not the first Azerbaijani journalist to fall
victim to such an attack. Other victims include editor-inchief of “Azadliq” newspaper Ganimat Zahid, finance director Azer Ahmadov and reporters Natig Gulahmadoglu and Gan Tural. Video clips containing intimate scenes
were posted on internet, in violation of the journalists’
privacy. This pattern indicates that the Azerbaijani government, illegally deploying the technical and human
resources of intelligence agencies, repeatedly organizes
centralized smear campaigns against journalists who
publish material critical of the government.10
All the people cited above, in a quotation taken from the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety’s declaration about the
case, are male journalists, with the exception of Khadija Ismayilova, who so far is the only woman publicist to be targeted with
such defamation and shaming campaign attempting to silence
her critical reporting. According to Ismayilova herself11 there are
no other accounts of female journalists or activists who were
peer-reviewed essay
ever targeted in such ways or imprisoned12 — except for the very
few examples of women protesters being taken into short-term
custody or put into jail for brief, token periods of time, like the
five-day prison term of Gozel Bayramova, deputy head of the
opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party. Yet, as the recent
consecutive arrests of first Leyla Yunus,13 head of the Institute of
Peace and Democracy, and human rights defender working on
the issues of political prisoners; and then Khadija Ismayilova14
herself, also clearly indicate, national law enforcement agencies, and hence surveillative apparatuses, are rapidly shifting
towards a more gender-neutral position. Now, when it comes to
the defamation of political opponents, smear campaigns against
disagreeable journalists, or the jailing of professionals with oppositional stances, there are no gender differences anymore,
and women are targeted in exactly the same way as their male
counterparts. The similar trait can be observed when skimming
through recent years’ Azerbaijani protest photos and videos as
well, which are filled with disturbing imagery of women activists being verbally and physically harassed, emotionally abused,
forcefully dragged away, or bloodily beaten by police officers,
military personnel, security guards, civil agents and other representatives of various law enforcement agencies. So, in the
real, offline world, women now started to be treated in the most
brutal ways, paralleling the treatment of male dissidents and
journalists — be it the close surveillance of their intimate lives or
the outright violence against them. Such transformation invites
a closer look at the situation of women activists in the online
First of all, despite all the secularization and modernization
processes Azerbaijan has undergone during the Soviet era, it is
still very much a traditionalist country, where most of the male
politicians and bureaucrats put constant emphasis on family
values and “women’s primary identities as mothers and wives”17
— despite the fact that Azerbaijan has one of the highest ratios of
female parliamentarians18 among post-Soviet countries. In this
Despite the numerous claims that most of the imprisoned Azersense it is very hard to disagree with Manijeh Sabi’s claim that
baijani male dissidents were closely monitored and detected
“Azerbaijan society remains as a fortress for patriarchy”; it is
also not very easy to explain an “inconsistency
between women’s economic participation in
the labor force and formal emancipation of
women on the one hand and their apparently
subservient and male-protected position on the
other”.19 Suzanne Rothman, a Fulbright English
Teaching Assistant based in Baku, observes that
the “gender attitudes, specifically the way men
interact with women in public, remain stuck
in an anachronistic rut” behind the “façade of
modernity” in Azerbaijan — with women constantly being “constrained by the preferences
of their male relatives” and thus mostly remaining “locked in tradition-bound roles as mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters”.20 Within
the socio-cultural context of such a dominant
patriarchy — where women are already heavily
monitored and patronized within the course
of everyday life through the normative gender
codes established by their fathers, brothers and
Khadija Ismayilova received the prestigious Courage in Journalism Award from the
husbands — very little state effort is required
International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) in a 2012 Los Angeles ceremony.
for the additional monitoring of women’s
Between modernism and traditionalism: Azerbaijani women online
Photo: Vince Bucci/IWMF
with pinpoint accuracy through their social media communications and usage — such as Jabbar Savalan, a 20-year-old student
member of an oppositional youth organization, being taken
into custody “after he posted on Facebook calling for a ‘Day of
Rage’ in Freedom Square in Baku, echoing the calls for protest
in the Middle East”15 — there is no known example of any female
activist being specifically targeted for her online presence and
activities. Based also on the thorough quantitative and qualitative analysis of 2003–2013 Azerbaijani offline and online protests
— the subject of another study seeking to build a categorical map
of protests in Azerbaijan, which is not reproduced here due to
the space constraints16 — it can be argued that the surveillative
apparatuses of Azerbaijan, aiming to monitor and keep under
control Internet users’ online media and social networking practices, are currently targeting male activists only, since there are
no clear indicators that the women protesters are kept under the
close online surveillance as well. It can be speculated with some
confidence that the national surveillative apparatuses are not
fully aimed at women yet; or, to be more precise, there is no persuasive evidence that the same measures — taken to prevent an
online call for action from turning into an actual offline protest,
as in the case of Jabbar Savalan — are being used against women
within the online world. Several phenomena could explain this.
peer-reviewed essay
Frequency of Internet use by respondent’s sex (%)
5 424
Every day
Less often
At least once a week
At least once a month
I don’t know what the Internet is
Figure 1: The distribution of Internet use by gender in Azerbaijan.21
online behavior and conduct. And most of the time — due to
the country’s extremely low Internet penetration — such state
surveillance might not even be necessary, since, despite all the
claims of government officials for establishing widespread and
far-reaching Internet connectivity within Azerbaijan, analysis of
actual numbers reveals gloomy picture, especially in relation to
women’s Internet usage.
As the figure provided above clearly shows, only 15% of 711
women respondents of Caucasus Research Resource Centers’
Caucasus Barometer 2011 Azerbaijan survey use the Internet frequently, if at all, and an astonishing 80% either have never used
it or do not even know what the Internet is. By combining Facebook’s own Ads-selling program data with the World Bank’s demographical information, Katy E. Pearce, assistant professor at
the University of Washington, and one of the leading experts on
information-communication technologies usage in South Caucasus, provides a much more elaborated and detailed analysis of
Facebook usage,22 social media platform claimed to be carefully
watched by the national law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Azerbaijan. According to Dr. Pearce’s calculations, only
36% of Facebook users in Azerbaijan are women — whereas in
neighboring Armenia the gender balance of users is fairly even;
and in Georgia there are about 10% more women than men on
Facebook. In this sense, the low number of people and households having an Internet connection, combined with the much
lower percentage of women — compared with men — using the
Internet in everyday life, might explain the lack of evidence of
surveillance of online women activists.
Concluding remarks
Although the conditions of the Azerbaijani female activists depicted here might seem depressing — with women dissidents
being surveilled and intimidated in the offline world because of
their professional roles and oppositional positions, and the lack
of women in the online realm — not everything is so gloomy. The
case of Khadija Ismayilova being blackmailed with a sex video
proved the emergence of something extraordinarily different in
relation to the classic operational grounds of Azerbaijani online
and offline female activism. The attempt to silence a woman
journalist through a defamation campaign based on her private
life was widely discussed, especially in the Facebook forums of
religious women dissidents; and although many of these religious women did not approve of premarital sex at all, the plain
fact that this most intimate moment was recorded and distributed through the Internet, with the putative governmental involvement, elicited open criticism and harsh condemnation. Such an
expression of strong solidarity of religious women with Khadija
Ismayilova’s quest for justice might also explain — although
this is pure speculation — the surprising support the journalist
received from the religious communities in Azerbaijan. Circumstances like this point to an emerging possibility and potential
for the formation of alternative online platforms, leading to a
greater empowerment of women and gender equality through
merging various, otherwise separate, female activist movements
— especially given that so far there is no proof of online women
dissidents being surveilled. Despite the currently low number of
women connected to the Internet, there is a growing tendency
among Azerbaijani women’s organizations and female activists
to build websites, start discussion forums, and establish Facebook groups — indicators of a healthy growth of Internet portals
and milieus related to women’s issues, which might foster a
dialog and mutual understanding among women with different
backgrounds. ≈
Ilkin Mehrabov, Department of Geography, Media &
Communication Studies, Karlstad University, Sweden.
1 Anita Little, “Blackmail, Courage and the Truth: An Interview with
Khadija Ismayilova”, Ms., October 29, 2012. Accessed May 10, 2013, http://
2 Caucasus Barometer is the annual household survey about social and
economic issues, as well as political attitudes, conducted by the Caucasus
Research Resource Centers (CRRC). CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer 2011
Azerbaijan survey was conducted nationwide between October 1, 2011,
and November 2, 2011, and in total 1481 adults of at least 18 years of age
(of which 48% were women) were interviewed face-to-face using the
Azerbaijani language.
3 The report states that the situation in Azerbaijan worsened compared
with previous years, mainly “due to an increase in violence against
journalists and legal amendments that limited access to information”.
FH, Freedom of the Press 2013: Middle East Volatility amid Global Decline
(Washington, DC: Freedom House, 2013), 8.
4 Reporters without Borders report states that the current situation in
Azerbaijan indicates that the “noose tightened around what remained
of the opposition media”. RsF, World Press Freedom Index 2013 (Paris:
Reporters without Borders, 2013), 14.
5 Elana Beiser, “Second Worst Year on Record for Jailed Journalists”,
Committee to Protect Journalists, December 18, 2013. Accessed January 10,
2014, http://www.cpj.org/reports/2013/12/second-worst-year-on-recordfor-jailed-journalists.php.
6 Amanda Erickson, “Sending Out an SOS: A New Low in Azerbaijan”,
Columbia Journalism Review 51, no. 2 (2012): 12.
7 RFE/RL, “RFE/RL Journalist Says She Won’t Be Intimidated by Blackmail
peer-reviewed essay
Campaign”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 14, 2012. Accessed
May 10, 2013, http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaiijani_journalist_defiant_
8 Ben Brumfield, “Salacious Video Defames Journalist Critical of Azerbaijani
Government”, CNN, March 20, 2012. Accessed May 10, 2013, http://edition.
9 Amanda Erickson, “Khadija Ismayilova”, The Atlantic 310, no. 4 (2012): 51.
10 IRFS/IFEX, “Anti-Corruption Journalist Receives Threats, Explicit
Images”, The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety/International
Freedom of Expression Exchange, March 8, 2012. Accessed May 10, 2013,
11 Khadija Ismayilova, personal communication with author, March 30, 2013.
12 According to the updated list of political prisoners, released by the Bakubased Human Rights Club on October 1, 2013, there are two females
in Azerbaijani jails among the 142 persons imprisoned for politically
motivated reasons. Within the published list both of them are placed
under the rubric of Other Cases, with very brief information being
provided: “Beylerqizi Shamsiyya – member of the Union of Azerbaijani
Journalists and Writers”; and “Safaraliyeva, Shafaq – resident who
complained about the Zerdab District Executive Authority head Lutfali
Babayev.” When a more thorough Internet search with these names is
conducted no other information, but the list itself, can be found online.
Although this might be related with the differences in pronunciations
of names in their original vernacular forms and English neither of
women were mentioned by Khadija Ismayilova during the personal
communication as well. Human Rights Club, “Azerbaijan: An Updated
List of Political Prisoners”, The Civic Solidarity Platform, October 1, 2013.
Accessed May 4, 2014, http://civicsolidarity.org/article/800/azerbaijanupdated-list-political-prisoners.
13 Daisy Sindelar, “Together A Lifetime, Azeri Activists Now Apart And In
Jail”, RFE/RL, August 26, 2014. Accessed November 6, 2014, http://www.
14 HRW, “Azerbaijan: Investigative Journalist Arrested”, Human Rights
Watch, December 5, 2014. Accessed December 6, 2014, http://www.hrw.
15 AI, Amnesty International Public Statement: Azerbaijani Youth Activists
Targeted after Using Facebook to Call for Protests (London: Amnesty
International, 2011), 1.
16 Ilkin Mehrabov, “Surveillance, Gender and Social Media: New Politics
of Opposition in Azerbaijan” (paper presented at the 9th International
Conference Crossroads in Cultural Studies, Paris, France, July 2–6, 2012).
17 Niloofar Osuli, “Feminism in Republic of Azerbaijan in Globalized World”,
Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research 9, no. 1 (2011): 44–50.
18 According to the World Bank statistics on the proportion of seats held by
women in the national parliaments, 16% of Azerbaijani Milli Majlis are
women. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS
19 Manijeh Sabi, “The Impact of Economic and Political Transformation on
Women: The Case of Azerbaijan”, Central Asian Survey 18, no. 1 (1999):
20 Suzanne Rothman, “Azerbaijan: When Will the Catcalls Stop?”,
EurasiaNet.org, January 10, 2014. Accessed March 2, 2014, http://www.
21 The graphic is derived from the Caucasus Research Resource Centers’
Caucasus Barometer 2011 Azerbaijan survey’s dataset, available at the
22 Katy E. Pearce, “Facebook in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia — 2013
— With a Gender Focus”, Katy Pearce Blog, January 13, 2014. Accessed
February 2, 2014, http://www.katypearce.net/facebook-in-armeniaazerbaijan-and-georgia-2013-with-a-gender-focus
V. Lebedev, “Good Hands”, Sovetskoe Foto 6 (1964).
peer-reviewed essay
of power
in Soviet
by Ekaterina Vikulina
The study was based on the
power images of the Soviet period during seventy years, from
the beginning to the end of the
Soviet regime. The images of the
leaders in the widely distributed
press played an important part in
shaping the ideological platform
in the Soviet Union, including the
regulation, control and support of
a certain gender order.
The representation of gender
was studied in the subjects of
pictures of the country’s authorities and heroes. A significant role
in power representations was
given to the body, which is the
basis of ideological norms and
KEY WORDS: Representation,
gender, power, Soviet photography.
he focus of this study is the gender aspect of Soviet
power, its focus, and its normative status in mass
media representations, particularly in magazines. Dynamics of change were traced over a period of seventy
years, from the beginning of the Soviet regime to its end. A period of such great length was chosen in order to delineate the full
range of changes that took place during the Soviet era, changes
that nonetheless overlay a certain continuity in the way media
functioned as a means of regulating, controlling, and supporting
a gender order.
The images of leaders and officials were published on the
front pages of Soviet magazines and served as a pattern of gender norms and bodily codes for the rest of the citizenry. These
photos, which appeared in popular, widely distributed publications, played a significant role in shaping the ideological platform of the state. The visual rhetoric of those photos, the context
of their emergence, and the techniques used in their production
are considered to be one manifestation of power in Foucault’s
sense of the term.
The media is a space for biopolitics,1 a means of impacting
on our sensuality and our bodies through images of popular
culture. Power, politics, and the media are inseparably linked in
the creation of “true values” for the masses, including forming
representations of gender.
peer-reviewed essay
A photographer’s selection of a frame is not accidental. He or
she stops at one of the endless fragments of reality and makes a
choice about its visual embodiment. This makes photos subjective, expressive of the author’s opinion, but at the same time, it
transmits existing public views about the subject. As Peter Burke
noted, what images record “is not social reality so much as social
illusions, not ordinary life but special performances”, and that
is why they offer unique evidence for the history of values or
Photography had a special role in representations of Soviet
power. This medium had to certify a historical fact, to indicate
the success of the socialist construct, to convince people who
were assessing communism. Nevertheless, attitudes towards
photography as a propaganda tool changed throughout the
Soviet period. Bold experiments of the 1920s, marked by a fascination with sharp angles and the technique of photomontage,
were replaced during the Stalin period by caution, a fear of
uncontrolled information, which led to the retouching of many
photographs, transforming them into something with the poses
and gestures found in the fine arts.
In turn, the democratization of Khrushchev’s image was
closely related to the development of photography, the dissemination of amateur photography, and an extended arsenal
of pictorial means and options. In the 1960s, photography was
promoted as a modern technological medium and was used to
propagandize the success of Soviet science, notably the space
The objectives of the research presented here were to analyze
how the country’s leader appeared in the press, how images of
power changed throughout the period, and what representations of power were valid. In addition to the analysis of iconographic schemes, it is important to see who is represented together with the leader in the pictures, his entourage. The image
becomes paternalistic in relation to someone who is represented
nearby. Hence considerable attention was paid to images of the
“First Lady”. In this article, the difference between representations of leaders is examined with regard to the relation of a main
character to the secondary subjects in the picture (common
people, a wife, etc.). A significant role in power representations
was also given to the body, which is the basis of ideological
norms and rules.
Because the official view of gender roles in Soviet photography was manifested most completely in magazines with wide
readership, the present study is based on the material of popular
Soviet magazines such as Sovetskoe Foto [Soviet Photo], Ogoniok
[Little Flame], SSSR na stroike [USSR in Construction], Sovetskii
Sojuz [Soviet Union], Krestianka [Woman farmer], Rabotnitsa
[Woman worker], Sovetskaia zhenshina [Soviet Woman], Fizkultura i sport [Physical Culture and Sports], and Zdorovie [Health].
These periodicals are the most appropriate for the research
thesis because they are mass-produced and because of their propagandistic function; but they are also important because of the
greatly varying contexts in which images of politicians appeared.
This gives us a wide spectrum of leaders’ representations.
Images of revolutionary women from the magazine Sovetskaia Zhenshina. Nadezhda Krupskaia is the first one in this list.
The methods of semiotics and the approaches of visual and
cultural studies are essential to this study. Feminist critiques of
visual culture, with their attention to the construction of female
and male images and to the political meaning of their circulation in media production, have special significance for this type
of analysis. In addition, these concrete historical images were
examined in the wider cultural and political context. The importance of such an approach has been noted by many authors.4
The representation of gender was studied with regard to
the characters, events, scenes and settings of pictures in which
authorities and heroes of the country appeared. Attention was
given to the context of the image’s publication (the type of magazine and the accompanying text), the choice of the genre (staged
photography, reportage, official portrait), the artistic methods
(composition, framing decisions) and the set of photographic
codes (close-up, camera angle, distance from the subject) that
allows us to see how the image was constructed. The presence
or absence of certain iconographic schemes, such as traditional
poses, was also noted.
In this analysis, I distinguish several modes of constructing a
paternalistic image of power. First, there is the presence of certain iconographic schemes in pictures glorifying the figure of the
leader. This was observed mainly in photos of the Stalin period,
but it was also noted to some degree in shots of Lenin. This is not
to suggest these schemes were not used in other periods, only to
highlight the dominant trends. Second, the demonstration of the
principle of familial relations through kissing and hugging is analyzed in the photography of the “Thaw”. Finally, the image of the
First Lady serves as a marker of gender attitudes in society and
represents the female hypostasis of power. Photos of First Ladies
from throughout the Soviet period are reviewed, as well as some
from post-Soviet times, in order to emphasize the similarities
and differences of the two epochs.
peer-reviewed essay
Members of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and Council of
Ministers of the Soviet Union published in Ogonek 32 (1966).
of the leader
As is known, Lenin firmly discouraged visual representations of
living Bolsheviks, including himself, but the fact that the Monumental Propaganda project was his initiative “legitimized the
practice of singling out individuals for heroization”.5
The iconography of Vladimir Lenin was made up mainly of
portraits and shots for longer news stories that emphasized
the uniqueness, simplicity, and humanity of the political figure, and of his family photos.6 One of the most famous photographs of Lenin had been taken in January, 1918, by Moisei S.
Nappel’baum.7 This first official portrait was reproduced countless times in magazines and newspapers. It shows a close up of
the leader looking directly at the viewer. The close distance, the
steadfast gaze, the play of light and shadow created the personification of a new kind of power, expressing Lenin’s individuality,
his unpretentiousness and his attention to other people. The
clothes also accentuated the simplicity of the leader. Artists
were guided by photos presenting Lenin wearing a suit, vest, tie,
overcoat, and cap, which was considered informal attire in this
Lenin was photographed with his comrades and with Red
Army soldiers, peasants, and workers. Reportage shots from
meetings stressed the exclusivity of his personality, but most of
the photos showed the leader among others, equal to the people
photographed. Nevertheless, certain gestures of the leader, such
as his outstretched arm, and camera angles elevating his cutting
figure at the podium, were subsequently used in artworks to create the canonical image.
Paternalistic traits can be seen not so much in the photos as in
the photomontages of that time, in which Lenin was often presented as a larger-than-life figure raising his hand and pointing in
the direction of the bright future. Such proportions show Lenin’s
grandeur in relief against other people. The masses appeared in
representations of Lenin after his death, and by the early 1930s
“had become an indispensable ingredient” in posters featuring
the leader.9
Such a representation of Lenin as the leader of the masses,
was close to Stalin’s iconography, which visually realized the
metaphor of “the father of the nation”. At the end of the twenties, Stalin was still portrayed together with his colleagues and
the people, but the thirties tended to present him in the figure
of the leader. At the beginning of the 1930s, Stalin became the
Lenin of his day, and then some. A drawing of Stalin in profile
with Lenin’s profile behind him was published in Pravda in 1930;
the next year Bol’shevik for the first time ranked Stalin together
with Marx, Engels, and Lenin as a source of wisdom on materialist dialectics.10
When Stalin was portrayed together with Lenin, his image
was usually placed on the right. Jan Plumper writes that in symbology the left side means the beginning and the woman, and
the right side — the end and the man. Thus Lenin always had to
appear to the left of Stalin.11
Another example of Stalin’s magnification was to show his
figure against a background of people and things much smaller
than him. Perspectival distortion was widely used in Soviet posters. The most famous exponent of this technique is Gustav Klutsis, a Latvian artist who worked with photomontage and who
“forged a new path in the creative application of this device for
the glorification of Stalin”.12
Few people had the honor of being photographed with Stalin.
Several children were among these exceptions, and served the
symbolic generalization of a paternal guardianship over the nation. For example, in the magazine USSR in Construction, Stalin
is seen applauding a happy, multinational group of children.13
Widely known are the pictures with the little Buryat girl Gelya Markizova in his arms. The Tajik girl Mamlakat Nahangova
presents another variation on this theme. She was a schoolgirl
who exceeded the norm for cotton picked, and Stalin personally
presented her with an award in 1935.14 From the very beginning
of the cult of Stalin, he was portrayed only with girls. The presence of girls emphasized the inaccessibility of the leader: the
differences of sex and age expressed the distance between him
and others.15
The body of the leader had a special status: “Accordingly,
while the population dissolved into a single united hyperbody,
the singular body of the Leader hypertrophied and multiplied”.16
Paintings and photographs before the Thaw dealt primarily with
the ideal body of the leader, transforming his physical features
into the perfect figure of the national leader.
Changes in the ideological regime during the Thaw had profoundly affected various aspects of politics, including the representation of power. They are evident if we compare the pictures
of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. Photography of the
Thaw did not seek to embellish the image of the leader; it did not
avoid ordinary physical details of the head of the state. The First
Secretary of the Communist Party was represented as an ordinary human being. While the images of Lenin and Stalin were
peer-reviewed essay
V. Lenin and N. Krupskaia. Sovetskaia Zhenshina 3 (1970).
Indira Gandhi and Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, 1976.
timeless (“He is always with us” and “Lenin lived, Lenin lives,
Lenin will live”), the figure of Khrushchev was rooted in the
present. Where Lenin’s expression “was serious, determined,
thoughtful, or slightly ironic, but never jovial”,17 Khrushchev
allowed himself to laugh, to smile broadly, and to show his emotions in other ways.
The image of power became prosaic and everyday. Periodicals did not gloss over the image of the head of state; they did not
hide the features of his mediocre body.
roes of the country, or with representatives of a particular group.
“The era of kisses” began not with Leonid Brezhnev, as many
think, but in the time of the Thaw. It was then that the authorities
resorted to emotional expression, to warm gestures — whether a
handshake or a hug. Power involved physical contact; it became
sensual and tactile. Hugs became the norm at official meetings, as evidence of a trusting relationship, but also extended to
Khrushchev’s meetings with ordinary people. The emphasis on
sincerity during the period demanded the confirmation of feelings by appropriate gestures.
Khrushchev and his entourage confirmed agreements and cemented their friendship with numerous hugs and kisses. Others
of the epoch tried to follow suit. Khrushchev pressed German
Titov to his chest (“Fatherly Hug”)19; cosmonauts in turn threw
themselves into each other’s arms (“Star Brothers”)20 as well as
those of family and friends (“Joy of the Meeting”).21 It is noteworthy that the titles of the pictures referred to family relationships.22 This emphasized warmth, but at the same time signified
a hierarchy. The hugs duplicated in the names and captions of
the photographs became the norm for visual and verbal expression.
“Parental” discourse was also reproduced directly by Valentina Tereshkova at a press conference in the mention of a “space
brother” and Khrushchev’s “fatherlike” concern.23 The photo
“Good Luck and Happiness to the Discoverers of Stellar Roads!”
by Vasily Peskov also demonstrates the “family ties” of the leader
and cosmonauts.24 Khrushchev is raising his glass to the health
of the newlyweds, Valentina Tereshkova and Andrian Nikolayev.
Khrushchev stands next to the bride and groom in a place normally occupied by their parents. Actually, “parental” power also
lay in the fact that the marriage was arranged by the authorities
as a propaganda move.
A similar expedient, in which love or marriage received a
blessing by the intervention of higher authorities had long been
known in Stalinist cinema.25 Photography in this case repro-
Compared with the strict, frozen photo portraits of Stalin, of
which there were few,18 power during the Thaw was represented
more informally. Images of Stalin were glorified by the angle of
the composition and the lighting, but portraits of Khrushchev
did without such expression and represented the uncomplicated
appearance of a Soviet bureaucrat. His clothing emphasized the
ordinariness of his appearance: a jacket and tie replaced the military uniform of the Generalissimo.
Khrushchev’s photos were published in great quantities on
the pages of periodicals. He was often surrounded by people —
Party members, workers, and others. Photographers often used
wide-angle shots of the Party’s meetings and activities, capturing
not only the leader, but also his entourage. This expedient also
worked to “democratize” the image of power.
Hugs and kisses:
the sensualization of power
Corporeal confirmation of the promulgated ideas was important
to the authorities during the Thaw. A hug and a kiss became a
representation of concern for the population of the country, of
the granting of assistance to downtrodden people of Africa, or
of gratitude for a mission fulfilled. Thus, in the pictures of the
Thaw, a kiss and a hug acquired the meaning of a political act.
The significance was contextual; it depended on whether the action took place during an official meeting, at a meeting with he-
peer-reviewed essay
Mamie Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev in 1959.
The Gorbachev couple. Sovetskaia Zhenshina 3 (1991).
duced the familiar story. A kiss and a hug in the Soviet photography of fifties and sixties belonged to the public space and often
took place in front of witnesses. They were framed with people
around, ordinary citizens or top government officials, which had
the effect of verifying and confirming the event. There are similar situations in the Soviet cinema of that time.
Hugs also expressed political support for particular nations.
Khrushchev embraced Fidel Castro and black young men with
emphatic enthusiasm, and held a Burmese girl and a Russian boy
(“Good Hands”).26 He symbolized assistance to the oppressed
African people by a welcoming gesture, gathering black students
into his arms.27 At the Sixth Youth Festival, fraternization took
place among all nations, but special attention was given to guests
from Africa. Support had to be demonstrated for these countries’ fight against colonialism.
These photos represented Khrushchev as the “father of the
nations”, as a “friend” and a “brother”, thereby implying family
relationships between peoples. This was a way to demonstrate
the international nature of Soviet power and the “parental” tutelage of the Soviet state in relation to other nations. This indulgence in the form of “Helping Hands” produced the friendly image of the Other, building a hierarchy and ensuring the cultural
hegemony of the socialist society.
The Thaw cultivated a sensual approach to the world. Displaying hugs and kisses, their permissibility or prohibition, depending on the context, created a sexual tension that attracted
attention. But mostly it was a demonstration of familial relations.
Central Committee; from 1924 to 1939 there were only four women members in the Central Committee (Nikolaeva, Artiukhina,
Krupskaia, and Kalygina). Before 1956, no woman ever sat on
the Politburo or the Presidium, the chief political bodies of the
Party.28 Nevertheless, despite their factual absence in the higher
echelons of power, women were not excluded from the scope of
power’s representation.
Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaia, for example, always occupied a special place in the Soviet pantheon. She often appeared
in the pictures of her high-ranking husband. A great deal of attention was given her in particular by the Sovetskaia Zhenshina
magazines. The image of Krupskaia as a faithful friend and fellow member was to be an inspiration to millions of women. No
female image appeared so close to power during the years that
followed. None of the wives of later Soviet leaders — not Nina
Khrushcheva nor Raisa Gorbacheva, nor the minister of culture
Ekaterina Furtseva, nor the first woman cosmonaut Valentina
Tereshkova, nor many others — could begin to approach the
status of the “grandmother of the Russian Revolution”. The image of Lenin’s wife remained intact as the image of Lenin, whose
only competition after his death was Stalin.
Female hypostases of Soviet power:
images of First Ladies
In his book The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, Richard Stites points out that the
Soviets never succeeded in matching educational and economic
equality of the sexes with political equality on any level. From
1918 until 1924, Stasova was the only woman to appear of the
Nevertheless, the image of Krupskaia typically used was not
an aesthetically pleasing one, one that would alleviate or hide
physical imperfections. For the young Soviet country, that would
look like a shameful rewriting of the past. The Nadezhda Krupskaia in these pictures was a “comrade in a skirt”, with minimal
references to sexual identity.
For generations of Soviet people, Krupskaia was a model
Communist. Materials about her appeared in the Soviet press
regularly, from the early twenties to the late eighties.
Such attention can be explained partly by Lenin’s respectful
attitude to his family circle, and, in particular, to Krupskaia, a
fact noted by researchers.29 But this issue was not limited to the
personality of Lenin, but was rooted in the new ideology. Pre-
peer-reviewed essay
cisely in Lenin’s era, the role of women in the political process
was taken to be important. Maria Ulianova, Lenin’s sister, and
the Western communists Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg
shared with Krupskaia the image of “flaming revolutionaries”.
Their portraits were set in honorable places in Soviet textbooks
and magazines, but Krupskaia was always on the top of this “female list”.30
Stalinism accentuated the gender division, the polarized
concepts of femininity and masculinity. Stalin’s time continued
to cultivate heroic revolutionaries, to glorify female workers, collective farmers, and delegates. However, in the higher echelons
of power, there was no representation of women. In the shadow
was also Nadezhda Alliluieva, Stalin’s wife, whose image did not
appear in the Soviet press.
The role of the First Lady changed with the Thaw. Nina
Khrushcheva, who accompanied her husband on state visits,
occupied a special place in relation to the higher echelons of
power. For the first time, the wife of a Soviet leader was present
in the pictures of official visits of the head of state. Khrushcheva
was captured with her husband in a meeting with the Eisenhowers, and with Charles de Gaulle and Yvonne de Gaulle at the Élysée Palace. These photos placed Soviet leaders in a new context
of high-society life.
In several pictures, Nina Khrushcheva was even shown without her husband. She was seen giving interviews to American
journalists, shaking hands with children, talking with the chairman of the UN General Assembly, Victor Belaunde, communicating with young Frenchmen. Through these pictures, power
acquired its feminine hypostasis. At the same time they emphasized the role of women in the Soviet Union and the importance
of family ties by presenting the leader of the country as a good
family man.
In Soviet photographs, women were represented as having
power, mainly as delegates of the congress. Their role in the
political life of the country was limited mainly to the declaration
of women’s rights in the Soviet Union, and to the struggle for
peace. It was these issues that were most important at the World
Congress of Women, for example, which took place in Moscow
in 1963. However, although magazines wrote a great deal about
the labor achievements of female workers and peasants, the Soviet era actually had created few recognizable figures of women
in power.
These included the minister of culture Ekaterina Furtseva,
the only woman to become a member of the Political Bureau of
the Central Committee of the CPSU, and the cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. Both greeted the Soviet people from the tribune
of the Mausoleum.
The most recognizable Soviet woman was Valentina Tereshkova. Her image played an important role in the representation
of women’s rights in the USSR. Tereshkova symbolized and validated the victory of socialism and the equality declared by the
Constitution. She was an example for all Soviet women, because
she functioned in such a difficult role on a par with men. After
passing the physical and intellectual trials at the same level as
Hugs and kisses of Nikita
Khrushchev: V. Egorov,
“Nikita Khrushchev and
Fidel Castro”, Sovetskoe
Foto 11 (1960). V .Smetanin,
“Fatherly hug”, Sovetskoe
Foto 9 (1961).
men, Tereshkova proved the power of the “weaker sex”. The
first woman in space was a deputy and a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Chairman of
the Committee of Soviet Women until 1989. Her image became a
symbol and guarantee of gender equality in the country, and her
pictures appeared in the press on a regular basis right up until
the end of the Soviet era.
The vast number of members of the Politburo was a visual
sign of the stagnation period. Only portraits of the general secretary of the CPSU could compete with their numbers. All magazines were crowded with photographs of Brezhnev. Even during
Stalin’s cult of personality, there were not as many images of the
leader as there were in the seventies. Brezhnev was everywhere:
applauding from the tribune, shaking hands with workers,
signing agreements at the negotiating table, receiving awards,
saluting the people from the mausoleum. Pictures were staged
of his speeches at the congresses, with the hall full of applauding
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was by no means the sole representation of power — his comrades in the Party also appeared
in pictures, but no one else stood out from the faceless state
apparatus. The other members of government constituted the
background for the leader of the country. Among the women
pictured next to Brezhnev were Indira Gandhi and Valentina
Tereshkova, as well as ordinary Soviet female workers in reportage photos. Brezhnev’s wife was not featured in pictures. Even
in the compilation of the family archive, which was published by
Ogonek on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, her pictures
were absent.31
The Gorbachev couple clearly contrasted with the tradition of
downplaying family ties, appearing together at official meetings
and visits abroad. For Soviet citizens such behavior presented
an unusual image of power, so it caused considerable misunder-
peer-reviewed essay
Boris Yeltsin
with the
Aleksy II.
Photo by Y.
standing and annoyance. This rejection was even discussed on
the pages of Sovetskaia Zhenshina, which tried to rehabilitate
Raisa Gorbacheva in the eyes of the public.32
Even in the last moments of his reign, coming down the steps
of the plane from Foros with his wife and daughter, Gorbachev
was shown as a perfect family man.33 But in the eyes of the public, this was not a positive characteristic, and it did not win him
any points as a political leader — quite the contrary.
The post-Soviet
At the beginning of the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin was portrayed in a
crowd, among people, thereby embodying democratic values.34
In another shot, with dozens of microphones focused on him,
he presents a visual metaphor of publicity.35 He was also shown
drinking tea with the Patriarch — this meant that he respected
tradition.36 In general, the new government tried to surround
itself with churchmen in order to express its continuity with the
prerevolutionary past.
At the same time that the royal family was rehabilitated, there
were publications about the family relationships of royal personages, and about the execution in Yekaterinburg.37 Materials were
accompanied by photographs of a married couple, the Tsesarevich, and the Grand Princesses. The declaration of prerevolutionary values and a call to go “back to the roots” that came after
perestroika initiated a return to the patriarchal model.
After Raisa Gorbacheva, who had irritated her compatriots
because of her various activities, the figure of the First Lady
vanished into the shadows for a long time. Naina Yeltsina did not
appear in the press. Her absence in the pictures of her husband
indicated a change in the view of the social role of women: public and private were separated even more than before.
Since the election of Vladimir Putin, the First Lady has rarely
been seen in the media. In the words of the Daily Beast, during
the second term of Putin’s presidency, his wife was, in effect, “invisible”.38 The disappearance of Lyudmila Putina from the public
sphere indicated that Putin had built his image ignoring the family context, as if he were an old bachelor.
The image of Superman — practicing judo, skiing, surfacing
out of the deep sea with ancient amphoras — does not need a
women’s supplement, which would simply detract from the
main character. The image is created simultaneously for all
women in the country. Leadership is represented in all spheres
and even beyond normal human limits. He is not only the head
of state, the “father of the nations”, but also the “king of beasts”,
the leader, quite literally, of a flock of cranes.
The reign of Dmitry Medvedev was described by many as a
weakening of vertical power. It is symptomatic that the President’s wife became a more powerful figure at this time. Thus,
the active position of the First Lady is one of the most important
markers of democratic tendencies. The historical process in Russia attests to this.
The relative freedom of the twenties, which created and glorified the image of the woman revolutionary in the faces of Krupskaia and Kolontai, was replaced by the patriarchy of Stalin’s
time, which passed under the shadow of the “father of nations”.
After Khrushchev’s Thaw, which took Nina Khrushcheva from
the home into the public sphere and placed Valentina Tereshkova on the same level as the men atop the Mausoleum, there
came, with the cult of personality of Brezhnev, stagnation. The
process of perestroika weakened the old gender mindsets, but
not for long. With the post-Soviet “return to the origins”, the patriarchal model came back again, reinforced by market relations.
Paternalism in its visual embodiment asserts itself through
iconographic schemes which emphasize the role of the leader
through the scale of his figure contrasted with others and depict
him as the “father of nations”, the leader of the masses, and
their high patron. Gestures also play an important role, expressing trust relationships of the ruler and the people to approve the
family character of their connection. Finally, the presence or
the absence of the First Lady in power representations, as well
as that of female politicians, also indicates the gender politics of
the society. The paternalistic model determines the position of
a monarch as a sole ruler, while the wife is reduced to at most a
decorative function, to a symbol stripped of its power.
The study of images of power permits the revelation of their
ideological character, and the detection of a paternalistic attitude and the degree of authoritarianism of a regime. It thereby
helps to formulate a critical position towards power, because
truly democratic reforms are possible only with a change of gender norms, where equality is a vaccination against the scourge of
autocracy. ≈
Ekaterina Vikulina, lecturer at the Russian State University
for the Humanities in Moscow.
peer-reviewed essay
1According to Michel Foucault, biopolitics is a control apparatus exerted
over the population. It is “a new technology of power . . . [that] exists
at a different level, on a different scale, and [that] has a different bearing
area, and makes use of very different instruments”. Michel Foucault,
Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975—1976 (New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 242.
2Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence
(London: Reaktion Books, 2001), 28.
3Susan E. Reid, “Photography in the Thaw”, Art Journal 53 No. 2 (1994):
33. The Soviet space program included not just space exploration but
rocketry in general.
4For an example, see Burke, Eyewitnessing, 187.
5Victoria Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin
and Stalin (Berkeley: University of California Press), 139. Monumental
art was proclaimed by Lenin as an important means for propagating
revolutionary ideas.
6Key elements in the aesthetics of Leniniana were simplicity and humanity:
“Leniniana cultivated the image of Lenin as a simple and modest man
whose outstretched arm projected a new type of power”. These attributes
were later transferred to Stalin, with whom they acquired unprecedented
proportions (Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 146).
7Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 140.
8Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 143.
9Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 154.
10Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 158.
11Jan Plamper, Alchemy of Power: The Stalin Cult in the Visual Arts (Moscow:
NLO, 2010), 110.
12Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 163. One example is Klutsis’s 1936 poster
“Kadry reshaiut vse”, in which Stalin is posed against a red background
like Christ in many icons and surrounded by smiling men and women
bearing flowers. Klutsis’s poster “K mirovomu oktiabriu” (1933) utilizes a
perspectival distortion to aggrandize Lenin and Stalin, whose giant feet
are positioned near crowds of very small people (Bonnell, Iconography of
Power, 163, 166).
13[Photomontage], SSSR na stroike 8 (1937): front cover, 1.
14[Photo], Sovetskii soiuz 5 (1953): 8.
15Plamper, Alchemy of Power, p. 110. Starting in 1947, these girls did not
represent the national republics, but rather had a typically Russian
16Helena Goscilo, “Post-ing the Soviet Body as Tabula Phrasa and
Spectacle,” in Lotman and Cultural Studies: Encounters and Extensions, ed.
Andreas Schönle (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), 261—262.
17Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 153.
18Maya Turovskaya, “Easy for the Heart or Kraft Durch Freude,” in
Soviet Power and Media, ed. Hans Günther and Sabine Hänsgen (Saint
Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 2006), 250.
19Viktor Smetanin [photo], Sovetskoe Foto 9 (1961): 2—3.
20Valery Gendo-Rothe [photo], Sovetskoe Foto 9 (1961): back cover.
21Gennady Koposov, “Joy of meeting” [Photo], Sovetskoe Foto 10 (1962)
22 Parental discourse was very important in representations of the
Soviet cosmonauts. This was pointed out by several researchers. Iina
Kohonen pointed out ordinariness in the representation of cosmonauts.
Photographs of cosmonauts spending time in their beautiful homes
with their happy spouses proclaimed that “the heavenly creatures were
already living among ordinary people” (Iina Kohonen, “The Space Race
and Soviet Utopian Thinking,” Sociological Review 57 (2009): 123). See
also the article by Matthias Schwartz, “Poslednij ryvok: Intimnaja zhizn’
kosmonavtov v sovetskoj populjarnoj kul’ture i nauchnoj fantastike”.
Matthias Schwartz [Last jerk: Intimate life of cosmonauts in Soviet popular
culture and Science fiction] in SSSR: Territoriia liubvi [USSR: territory of
love], ed. Natalia Borisova, Konsantin Bogdanov, Iuri Murashov (Moscow:
Novoe Izdatel’stvo, 2008), 171—177.
23“My flight has shown that the female body bears space conditions not
worse than men’s . . . . I did not have a sense of fear, especially since I
worried a lot at first for my space brother Valery Bykovsky. [...] It’s hard
to convey what I felt during the conversation with Nikita Khrushchev.
He gave me fatherly and warm wishes for a happy flight and landing”.
Valentina Tereshkova, “Space does not make a gallant indulgence to a
woman,” Soviet woman 8 (1963): 8—9.
24Vasily Peskov, “Good luck and happiness to the discoverers of stellar
roads!” [Photo], Sovetskoe Foto 1 (1964): front cover.
25Natalya Borisova, “‘Liubliu — i nichego bolshe’: sovetskaia liubov’ 19601980-x godov” [“I love and nothing else”: Soviet love in the 1960—1980s],
in SSSR: Territoriia liubvi, 42.
26V. Lebedev, “Good Hands” [photo], Sovetskoe Foto 6 (1964): colored plates
between pp. 24—25.
27Sergey Smirnov [photo], Sovetskoe Foto 10 (1961): 2—3.
28Richard Stites, Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism
and and Bolshevism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 326.
29Dmitry Volkogonov, Lenin: A New Biography (New York: Free Press, 1994),
30 Sovetskaia Zhenshina 3 (1970): 12.
31 Ogonek 51 (1976).
32 Soviet Woman 3 (1991): 2—3.
33Yuri Lizunov, “Homecoming” [Photo], Ogonek 16—17 (1992): back cover.
34Feklistov Y. [Photo], Ogonek 12 (1991): 2.
35Feklistov Y. [Photo], Ogonek 24—26 (1992): 2.
36Feklistov Y. [Photo], Ogonek 31—33 (1992):14.
37Edward S. Radzinsky, “Shooting in Yekaterinburg”. Ogonek 21 (1989):
4—5, 30—32. The Russian imperial family, the Romanovs, were shot in
Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918.
38Anna Nemtsova, “Where Is Russia’s First Lady?,” The Daily Beast, January
13, 2013. Accessed November 3, 2014 http://www.thedailybeast.com/
peer-reviewed essay
Going west or
going back?
Searching for new male identity
by Daria Dmitrieva
ussia, the year of
When the authors of these
199… The state does
comics created their images of
not exist. There
heroes, they tried to find some
is no army.” With
exemplars and fundamenthese words, the action and
tal values on which to base
fantasy comic book Through
them, instead of the broken
Blood and Suffering1 begins.
idols of the USSR. Where did
No army: the main structure
they search for them? How
that organized male identity
were their fears and hopes
has collapsed in the crisis of
symbolized? In the end, what
the 1990s. The great search for
values did they find? I studied
the post-Soviet male identity
Russian comic art produced
The Mice Are Burying the Cat, a 1760s lubok print. It has been combegins.
by the publishing house Velesmonly thought that this plot is a caricature of Peter the Great's burial.
One of the symbolic forms
V.A. in Ekaterinburg, which
in which this search took place
existed from 1991 to 1998. Durwas the comics. What answers can research into comics give us
ing this period, seven issues of the magazine Veles, two issues of
about male identity? Comics show and tell at the same time. This
humor comics, and two issues of “The Collections of Comics”
symbiosis creates a special type of narration — text and visual
were published.
line complement each other, forcing the reader to perform two
The first three releases of the comic strips were published in
types of work — reading the text and reading the visual narra1991 on black-and-white newsprint. The issues were called “The
tion, which, without a doubt, requires a greater engagement
Collection of Comics”. Starting in 1992, the issues began to be
by the reader, and allows the authors of comics to enlarge their
published in a magazine format, called Veles.
The authors were searching for models of their heroes in
In this paper, I will show how the comics of the publishing
Western culture (Mazda, Batman, Conan, Spider-Man, and othhouse Veles-V.A. produced symbolic forms that represent probers), Slavic mythology, the Far East, the fantastic future, fairy
lems of masculine identity that existed in the 1990s in Russia.
tales, and the historical past. Connecting mythological and
media modes creates a special type of imagery, the new heroes
of the 1990s — New Slavs or “new Russians”. According to my
The stereotype of the Soviet man was destroyed in the early 1990s.
estimations, 20% of the stories in all the Veles-V.A. issues are
New forms of culture, such as comic books, tried to invent new male
devoted to humorous topics, and the remaining 80% to heroic
models. In 1991, a group of authors started to publish the comic
stories in different genres, mostly fantasy and fiction. Veles’s
magazine Veles, in which patterns of male identity were constructed.
comics contain no stories centered on a female character; these
The comics expressed a form of sublimation of post war and post
stories are narrations by a man about a man in a situation of soSoviet trauma. The new patterns drew inspiration from three areas:
cial crisis.
American superheroes, epic Slavic characters, and the heroes of the
I argue that the search for a hero is very symptomatic of the
war in Afghanistan. The army and the Afghan experience became the
Russian male consciousness of the 1990s. By examining comics
cornerstone, on which the new understanding of the male identity in
by Veles-V.A., I will also show how a man of the 1990s thought of
the new cultural environment was built.
his body, his role in the family, his social status, and more: his
KEY WORDS: Comics, postsoviet Russia, monsters, male identity,
place in the political system, his relations to authorities, his purVeles.
pose, and his highest aim.
peer-reviewed essay
er of the first issue. At the bottom of
the page was the note, “By purchasing our products you are making a
The tradition of comic art in Ruscontribution to assistance work for
sia commences with primitivistic
disabled people and the families of
pictures, lubok. The peculiarity of
the fallen”.
lubok is that it involves a viewer — a
Initially, the publishing house
reader — in a kind of game with
was conceived as a patriotic project
socio-political signs.2 In the beginassociated with veterans of Afghanining of the Soviet era, the same role
stan. The editor-in-chief and manis occasioned by the political poster.
ager of the project was an agent of
As Jose Alaniz writes,3 visual culture
the Air Force, Igor Ermakov. In 1985
forms the central front in the war
to 1987, he had participated in comof ideas. The Proletkult’s projects
bat operations in Afghanistan and
are the primary example of this.
received many military awards.
In the second half of the twentieth
The Afghan War generation tried
century, two currents of comic strip
to create comics in post-Soviet Rusart were formed in the Soviet Union.
sia. They were not businessmen
The first are the dissident comics.
and knew nothing about marketing
Some people who had been subject
and the comics industry. Still, their
to persecution shared their experiwork is very representative, because
ence in visual form. The most strikthese authors’ comics also became a
ing example is The Rock-Painting by
sphere in which the fears and stress
"Red blood". Veles no. 6, 1996.
E. Kersnovskaya.4 Her notebooks,
of 1990s could be sublimated. Afwhich she created in the Gulag,
ghanistan formed their values and it
with comments, which she inserted
is not surprising that the topic of war
later, is a story transferred to a visual form — “the evidence of
and defense was extremely important to the publishers.
the historical process”, as Walter Benjamin wrote.5 The second,
The discourse of war in the USSR spreads far beyond the
official line of comic development in the USSR is children’s comphenomena directly involving the military and its activities.
ics. Everyone read the magazines Funny Pictures and Murzilka
V. A. Sukovataya7 notes that war is a central topic in the Soviet
as a child. Here, the comic strip performs an entertaining and
public consciousness. Even the topic of labor is understood
humorous function.
in terms of a military struggle, such as a “feat of labor” or a
It can be concluded that the comics’ themes were always either burning social issues, containing direct political statements, “battle for the harvest”. The feat on the battlefield is one of
the central cultural scenes in the formation of masculinity.
or merely childish.
Its image on the screen served an ideological function in SoThe situation changed in the 1990s. Comic art began a new
viet gender ideology, in which the role and the image of the
life in Russia. At the beginning of the post-Soviet period, comics
soldier is somehow incorporated into other contemporary
were produced by keen enthusiasts, who knew Western comics
and admired them. With the help of such an unexpected cultural heroic roles and images of masculinity, whether as a miner or
a builder of an underground railway, a steeplejack, a commuform as comics, authors tried to embody in visual images their
anticipation of a new life, new stories, new possibilities, and new nist, an engineer, or a seaman.
War increases collective masculine identity and forms a set
of connections between the dominant masculinities, the hierThe Veles-V.A. publishing house existed from 1991 to 1998;
archies of homosocial power, and the politics of the male body.
and published comics until 1995. It was not the only project of its
The discourse of protection of women and children designates
kind: there was also, for example, the comic magazine The Fly 6
in Ufa and the PIF publishing house in Yekaterinburg. All these
the constancy of the protected. The enemy, which can also be
were individual initiatives: people without experience and proconstituted by the problem faced by labor (in the battle for the
fessional knowledge, but full of enthusiasm, began to draw and
harvest, etc.), is always assigned by the state. This characterizes
publish comics.
the Soviet masculine identity as opposed to that of the West.
What happens to the structure of “Who is protecting whom
from what?” of Orwell’s perpetual war during the period of political and social crisis of the early 1990s?
The publishing house was originally registered as a company of
In 1991, with the nearly complete elimination of the regulathe Russian Union of Afghan Veterans Veles-V.A. — and this was
tory function of authorities, all suppressed aggression and
no accident. The title Structural unit Veles was placed on the covsexuality becomes free and is immediately directed towards
The roots of comic
art in Russia
War, identity,
masculinity, and comics
peer-reviewed essay
a great number of objects: at formerly protected women and
children, at other men; autoaggression and a whole complex of
phantasms appear — vague media representations consisting of
indistinct images of an enemy. A Soviet man, unaccustomed to
the new active role, starts to search for “his own war” or to create it artificially. The comics of the Veles-V.A. publishing house,
in this regard, are very symptomatic.
Searching for the new
masculinity: why?
We may examine the traumatic experience of the state’s collapse
in the two-part comic story Through Blood and Suffering. The
plot is extremely vague; the full importance of what is happening is transmitted by the particular details. The country is experiencing a post-apocalyptic shock. The protagonist, Andrew, a soldier, is sitting at home doing the laundry. Suddenly he receives
the order (it is not known from whom: the letter is slid under the
door) to go to the forest and find a messenger there. The scene
of Andrew’s packing for the campaign is significant — originally,
it is the classic Soviet cliché “Portrait of a Man with Vodka”: he
sits at the table, shown full face, in front of him a bottle, a faceted
glass, and sliced bread. We also observe a live grenade on the
table, which indicates the status of a warrior. The next few shots
involve him equipping himself in his uniform and grasping the
weapon. The equipment of the hero is drawn in detail right up to
his cap, which he wears in the manner of an action hero from an
American movie.
Military attributes become the key to the restoration of the
usual picture of the world of a Hero-Defender — the mission is
received, he starts to fulfill it. Andrew goes to the forest, where
he accidentally meets the family of the former university employee, Yura with his wife, son, and sister. The situation “women
and children” is restored. Yura is a typical unemployed man of
the 1990s, trying to adjust to the new capitalist way of life. This
need to adjust, to change, is embodied in the following figure:
at night it turns out that Yura and all his relatives are vampires,
robots, and zombies, and at night they attack Andrew. Social
transformation is shown as a
process of physiological mutation. The topic of lycanthropy
is found in practically all of
the comics. In the comic book
Duel,8 a lovely wife suddenly
turns out to be a monster; in
the fairy tale about Ivan, a
peasant’s son, a woman turns
into mermaid; in the comic
book Veles a warrior man turns
out to be a woman; and so on.
These transformations indicate two important things:
the fragility and instability
of the familiar world and the
enemy’s image blurring and
Through Blood and Suffering. 1992.
dissolving into everyday life.
Blurring the contours of the enemy leads to blurring the concepts of friend and foe: familiar relationships are being shaken.
(An example is the comic book Duel: in the first frame, the hero
is sitting with his wife drinking wine, and in a second frame, she
becomes a zombie and tries to kill him.)
But let us come back to the comic book Through Blood and
Suffering. The shaky, restored structure collapses. Andrew destroys everybody, leaving only the child Sergei alive, but nearly
turned into a monster, half robot, half zombie.
Foreseeing trouble, Andrew still cannot kill Sergei; he takes
him along instead. Here again is the logic of protection: a child
needs to be protected. They fight together against savages and
the communist helicopter, the pilot of which calls Andrew “the
Democrat.” However, it is obvious that if there is no army, the
tasks to be accomplished still seem vague. As a result, Sergei attacks Andrew and turns him into a vampire.
Andrew, in turn, attacks the messenger whom they have been
going to see. Thus, the hero is transformed into something else
In this comic, the logic of the loss of identity of a HeroDefender is sequentially presented: initially it is the providers
of goals that disappear — state and army (a kind of totality),
then the representation of the protected individual (“women
and children” turn out to be monsters), then the enemy (anyone
can be an enemy, even a child), then the task (the messenger becomes the victim), and then the hero himself (I’m a monster, not
a military man).
But the comic’s story does not end there. A rather non-trivial
way out of this situation is offered as one more transformation
happens. The boy, Sergei, returns to being a nude blond boy
with a perfectly proportioned body, and caps off the triumph
of the developing race, which appears through the sequential
transformation “man-vampire-superman”. The pronounced
physicality of the new Sergei bears emphasis. The political
and economic situation in 1991 resulted in a change of moral
ideals, involving most of all sexual liberation in the public
sphere. “Post-Soviet masculinity is trying at any cost to
overcome the Soviet ‘trauma’
of asceticism and asexuality, and as a result, becomes
a ‘neurotic masculinity’,”
writes the professor and
theorist in the field of gender
studies V.A. Sukovataya.9
And in the image of the transformed Sergei, we see the
new type of masculinity — a
narcissistic masculinity. In
The Theory of Libido and Narcissism, Freud10 speaks about
secondary narcissism — numerous cases of delusions of
grandeur and erotomania in
peer-reviewed essay
which the subject is the main protagonist. The individual is
trying to reproduce his infancy, where there are not boundaries between subject and object. The Veles comics manifest the
same effort.
Search in the Slavic
The example is one of the central comic strips of the magazine — the serial comics story Veles.11 The main character is a
young man called Veles, the adopted son of the Slavic god Volos.
He was brought up by his servants — pseudo-mythological persons — Pleshilo and Baba Yaga. Pleshilo is a small creature, who
can perform magic if needed, and Baba Yaga is an old woman
living in the forest. Vladimir Propp saw her as the guardian of the
border between life and death, but in the comic, she is just the
foster mother of the main hero.
Veles himself has a heroic, mythological body. The body of
the hero has manifest gender characteristics — broad shoulders, powerful trunk, muscles in sharp relief, large stature. His
face also has all the signs of masculinity — wide square jaw,
broad nostrils, large eyebrows, high cheekbones. There are
clear similarities between the hero of the Veles series and a savage man in the Western tradition such as Conan the Barbarian.12
(Indeed, the Russian authors make no secret of their sympathies: they had already published a translated comic book about
Conan in the second issue of the Collection of comics in 1992.)
It is interesting that at a certain moment the hero Veles turns
out to be naked and then for some time continues his exploits
without clothes. Nudity is an important factor in the development of the hero, his achievement of excellence and of
superhuman status. We have
already seen this in the comic
story Through Blood and Suffering in the updated image of
The hero Veles fights various enemies. Originally, the
purpose of the battle is to
test himself. Having passed
three tests (battles with a
bear, with wolves, and with
an eagle), Veles is given a task
by his adoptive father Volos.
The mission is extremely
obscure — to get the “datura
flower” (some kind of drug,
with the help of which Almighty Volos will supposedly
conquer all people — but this
is unknown to the hero). Having received the task, the hero,
without further questions,
Veles, no 5, 1994.
begins to execute it — it is a
comfortable situation for him, as we have already seen. He has
incredible strength and the ability to conjure. However, there
is one condition — loving a woman will deprive the hero of
In general, images of womEn are rare in the pages of these collections and only four types can be found: a friend or companion-in-arms, a forbidden sexual object, an enemy, and a monster. Often a woman who is initially attractive turns into an ugly
monster, threatening the hero’s life.
At a certain stage in the adventure, Veles meets a beautiful
girl, Vesnyana, who attracts him, but the formidable Old Queen
of the country tries to shift the hero’s attention to herself. The
hero turns both women down because he remembers that love
can strip him of his strength. As a result, young Vesnyana is replaced by an older woman, an enemy, who in the end causes the
loss of a young lover and an attack on the hero by a huge swarm
of wasps. The hero cannot influence the events, so he does not
respond to the rupture of relations with his beloved.
The comic’s authors try to oppose the Soviet pattern of suppressed, injured masculinity to an ideal image, an “I-man” of
flourishing physicality and sexuality. But it is still suppressed by
two things: an unmotivated prohibition on sexual relations, and
an unauthorized and unmotivated purpose. Both of these factors are introduced from the Soviet past and make him experience the trauma of his own masculinity again and again through
the impossibility of realizing it in normal sexual relationships.
The hero has to sublimate his strength in new exploits; he actually falls into an exclusive circle: he is lonely, and women and
other men are excluded from the field of vision. Limited sexuality with expressive physicality
turns the hero’s adventures
into a process of continuous
traumatic experiences.
The trauma returns in the
form of fantasies of more
and more gigantic enemies.
All of them best the hero
several times; they have dark
threatening appearances:
mammoths, dragons, snakes,
monsters. . . .
Finally, the hero arrives at
the place where the datura
flower grows, but he cannot
seize it: he does not have
the strength to pull it out of
the ground. The situation is
resolved unexpectedly. The
goddess of death Morshana
appears, who uproots and
gives a flower to the hero for
no special reason, without any
conditions, just because she
liked him: “I liked you, pretty,
peer-reviewed essay
stupid!” she says and gives him a
flower. This turn of events raises
the question about the value of the
flower and of the heroic deed of its
acquisition. Indeed, a great deed
is not important in itself, it is only
important as the formal presence
of a task and the activities involved
in executing it.
We see the narcissistic masculinity of the hero with the perfect
body who admires himself. He and
his exploits form a single world
where monsters are a required element. Any difficulty is resolved by
external influence, as if that is the
way things should be.
Neither Batman nor
other adapted characters
can reduce the stress associated with the loss of
male identity. The authors
of these comics enthusiastically and expertly replicate
the original stylistics of the
prototype, but cannot develop an alien for their type
of heroic character, cannot
give him a fully developed
life in the literary work.
The comics about Western heroes are episodic;
they do not occupy a significant place in the pages
of the issues, being rather a
kind of literacy campaign in
the culture of comics rather
Masculinity also develops, in a
than a serious attempt to
different way, as the adaptation of
set the behavioral model of
something foreign. Comics are a
a Western hero before the
phenomenon of Western culture,
Russian reader.
and, of course, the authors try to
The appeal to a variety
adapt characters to create a model
of Western heroes, from
of masculine identity. Their adapConan to Batman, from
Batman. Humor comics no 1, 1992.
tation of the superhero Batman13 is
Ninja Turtles to characters
from Star Wars, shows the
The author of the work is unknown; only one series of comics
uncertainty of the Russian authors’ search. None of the series
was released, and the adventures remained unfinished. Interestachieves much development, or completeness.
ingly, Batman is used on several levels. First, there is the formal
graphic level: Batman is painted in the style of the contemporary
comics about this superhero; it is the Batman of the 1990s. The
We see that the search for a hero — a model for the formation
authors were graphics masters and knew contemporary Ameriof a new type of masculinity — takes place in comics in several
can comics well, as indicated by how their use of the graphic
ways: in mythology, in Western popular culture, and in fictional
organization of the panels to express the dynamic structure of
the plot, the choice of foreshortenings, and the representation of epics. But the search in the recent Soviet past turns out to be the
most productive.
the characters.14
Second, he is adapted as a hero: he is presented as a defender,
The first issue of serial comics, Red Blood, became a sensaalthough active and independent. Third, at the level of plot: Battion.16 The main character Ivan endures challenging trials and
man, as the American millionaire, decides to help the children of tribulations during the war in Afghanistan. He loses friends, and
witnesses death, cowardice, and heroism. At home waiting for
the Volga region, not with his millions, but by struggling against
his girlfriend. . . . The authors narrate their experiences of the
a maniac with an axe.
war in Afghanistan, and the comic book receives the greatest reAlso in the collections of Veles-V.A. are comics involving
sponse, judging by letters reprinted from readers.
Conan the Barbarian, the Japanese-American hero Mazda,
“Each generation has its own war — the Civil War, the Great
calques from multiple action films, and the agent Z (a detective
Patriotoc War, Afghanistan. . . ” says Ivan, the Red Blood comcomic character) — to name just a few. Around some Western
ics’ hero, to his girlfriend before his mobilization. Ivan reproducheroes an original story is created — for example, the comic
es the most important Soviet male identity: that of the warriorstrip Save the Earth15 uses the stylistics and the heroics of Star
defender. “War, as an experience of gender policy, is one of the
key methods of forming the male/virile body,” the researcher
In fact, the comics of the early 1990s, the aim of which was to
Irina Novikova 17 says.
The authors classify this comics as a documentary, inscribentertain teens and adults, were often created by direct transfer
ing it in the tradition of such works as The Rock-Painting by
of the Western tradition to the Soviet sphere.
Searching in
the West
Searching in
the Soviet past
peer-reviewed essay
Kersnovskaya, and the Western graphic novels about a
Holocaust survivor Maus,
by Art Spiegelman, and
Persepolis by Marjan Satrapi.
The purpose of works like
this is to compensate for the
absence of photos and documents — any visual fixation
of the experience — and
to create the author’s own
version of events from the
perspective of a sharp social
criticism. According to Peter
Burke,18 acts of “obvious—vision”, such as making documentary comics or photographs, are the moments that
permit us to imagine the past
and bring us face to face with
history. Similar processes
take place in the comic book
Red Blood by Veles about
the war in Afghanistan. The
authors specifically point out
that some of the images in the
Red Blood. Veles no. 1, 1992.
comics are based on actual
photos, such as those depicturing mutilated bodies of
soldiers who have been tortured by the mujahedeen.
In the comic book, Ivan’s strength, endurance, self-control,
and ability to stand up for himself are often depicted. But more
actively, the authors of the comic book unfold a discourse of
the soldier’s code of honor and the importance of testing oneself “for heroism”. The first series of comics is dedicated to the
period before departure for Afghanistan, which is particularly
Symptomatic is the scene in which the hero and his friends
are walking through the streets of the city, and retirees are talking about them: “What have we come to? Look, young people
wear everything American.” Indeed, the characters are dressed
in the fashion of the time — skinny jeans, jackets, and so on.
T-shirts and other types of shirts tightly cover their muscular
chests. The girls passing by stare at them. The hero is understood as a real man — he gets approval from a woman, and the
disapproving comments of the elderly only support the image of
his manliness — he looks unmistakably like a man. Moreover,
thanks to the remarks of old women we begin to sympathize
sharply with the hero: these retirees do not know that the man
they are criticizing has enlisted in the Air Force.
In the comics, we see that for its authors the Red Army is an
ideal place for identity formation. The reminiscence about the
oath of allegiance occupies the central place in the first chapter
of the comic book as an event of paramount importance. The
main character Ivan enlists in
the army as a volunteer and specifically wants to get to Afghanistan to “test himself”.
Further events unfold
around the hero’s service in
Afghanistan, his military missions and Afghan fighters, the
mujahedeen. A man’s body is
a soldier’s body. At the level of
the plot, the comic story gradually unfolds from the memory
complex about the Soviet era to
the chaos of war and captivity;
however, the hero does not lose
himself in it. This is no longer
the post-apocalyptic chaos of
the comic Through Blood and
Suffering, and the enemy is not
a fantastic monster, but one designated by the state: in the first
issue the hero says that he must
“fulfill his international duty in
The appeal to the topic
of war symbolically restores
the order connected with the
structure of a warrior-defender,
and produces a powerful nostalgic impulse, forcing authors and
readers, as early as 1993, to turn to the Soviet past for the reconstruction of male identity.
The hero remembers “his war”, and, following him, we encounter history.
According to Benjamin,19 modernity takes the image of
destroyer of the present. The present is dissolved in the past,
transformed into debris before the eyes of the astonished angel
of history:
His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the
appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single
catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top
of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to
pause for a moment so fair . . . to awaken the dead
and to piece together what has been smashed. But a
storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in
his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer
close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap
before him grows sky-high.
Red Blood takes us back to the point in the past, to the lost Paradise, when everything was right — there was a war and a sense
of confidence in the reality of one’s own experience of being a
peer-reviewed essay
which identity, then?
The Veles-V.A. comics present a broad, complete coverage of the
social problems of the transition to the post-Soviet period, and,
in symbolic form, represent for the Russian reader a new form
of entertaining comics. This form becomes not so much simply
a guide to new values, but, to a greater extent, a mirror that reflects the complex of the loss of male identity that occurred after
the collapse of the Soviet state system.
As we have seen, the “Hero-Defender” type of masculinity
was shaped in the Soviet discourse, for which the most important
structuring phenomenon is war. The entire reality of work and
family life is also understood as a military situation, in which every
man has a clearly defined place — he was the defender of “women-and-children” from an enemy assigned by the state.
The man still remains passive and depressed, he did not
choose his goals, and in the job assigned him by the State and the
Party, it is not his duty to try to achieve for himself and his family
any kind of well-being, but rather to defend and protect.
Comics thus appear in the crisis period of rupture with the
traditional Soviet masculinity and become the bearers of traces
of this trauma. The authors of comics try to find new hero
models, searching for them in Slavic mythology and in Western
culture. In the second half of the 1990s, they produce the comic
book Red Blood, which returns to the figure of the war, allowing
the hero to reconstruct his identity nostalgically, and to survive
the traumatic experience of the crisis of the 1990s. A man returns
to his past and finds confidence in himself in the present.
Since the late 1990s, this process still has not been completed.
Designing one’s own history, fantasizing about it, giving it additional values and meanings — this is one of the strongest
trends in contemporary Russian culture. Symbolization of the
experience of the past to overcome the crisis gave rise to the
liquidation of historical reality as a whole. In its place, it creates
a wonderful new past where it is possible to find the necessary
identity — the patriarchal warrior — as if the 1990s had never
happened. ≈
Daria Dmitrieva, lecturer in the history of cultures,
Russian State University of the Humanities, Moscow.
1 Michael Pudovkin Igor Kozhevnikov, Through Blood and Suffering (Comics
Collection no.2, 1992).
2 Boris M Sokolov, “Igra s lubkom Hudoz hestvennaya sistema russkoy
narodnoy gravyury i gorodskoy prazdnichnyy fol’klor” [Playing with
lubok: the artistic system of Russian folk prints and urban festive folklore].
Questions of Art Criticism (1994), 151—168.
3 J. Alaniz, Komiks: Comic Art in Russia. ( Jackson Mississipi: University Press
of Mississippi, 2010).
4 E. A. Kersnovskaya, Naskal’naya zhivopis’ [Rock paintings] (Moscow:
Square, 1991).
5 Walter Benjamin, “O ponyatii istorii” [About the concept of history] New
literary review 46 (2000).
The Fly, created by Vitaly Mukhametzyanov, was the first Soviet and
Russian periodical comic magazine published from 1991 to 1994.
7 Viktoria A. Sukovataya, “Ot ’maskulinnosti travmy’– k ’maskulinnosti
nevroza’: gendernaya politika v sovetskoy i postsovetskoy massovoy
kul’ture” [From “masculinity of trauma” — “masculinity of neurosis”:
gender politics in the Soviet and Post–Soviet mass culture] Labirint: Zurnal
sotsial'no-gumanitarnyh issledovanii [Labyrinth: Journal of research in the
social sciences and humanities] 5 (2012).
8 Igor Ermakov, Igor Kozhevnikov, Duel. (PIF No. 24, 1992).
9 Viktoria A. Sukovataya, “Ot 'maskulinnosti travmy» – k “maskulinnosti
nevroza”, 37—59.
10 S. Freud, Vvedenie v psihoanaliz [Introduction to Psychoanalysis]
(Moscow: AST, 2007).
11 Igor Kozhevnikov, Veles. (Veles no. 1—5, 7, 1992—1995).
12 Conan the Barbarian was the brainchild of Robert E. Howard, a pulp
fiction writer from Cross Plains, Texas. Conan’s first official appearance in
comics was in Conan the Barbarian #1 published in 1970 by Marvel Comics.
Internet comics database http://www.comicvine.com/
The Batman (Humor Comics, 1992). Writer and illustrator unknown.
14 In the ’90s, various authors worked on stories about Batman. Marv
Wolfman’s work is the most interesting. In his stories Batman is set in a
Russian context. See The Batman (New York: DC, 1990) 444—447.
15 R Sadykov, Save the Earth (Veles no. 2, 1993).
16 Igor Ermakov, Igor Kozhevnikov, Red Blood (Veles no 1, 1992).
17 I. Novikova, Muzhestvennost’ i voyna [Masculinity and war] Accessed April
4, 2013 http://www.genderstudies.info/man/man_resech4.
18 Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000).
19 W. Benjamin, “Über den Begriff der Geschichte”, in On the Concept of
History (Gesammelten Schriften I:2. Suhrkamp Verlag. Frankfurt am Main,
Red Blood. Veles no 2, 1993.
peer-reviewed essay
Studies on men
and masculinities
in Ukraine
Dynamics of (under) Development
by Tetyana Bureychak
ver the past two decades, gender relations have
become an issue of growing public and academic interest in many post-Soviet states. This can be clearly
seen in the increase in gender studies publications,
research, and dissertations, as well as in the introduction of gender studies courses in university curricula and the establishment
of gender studies research centers. At the same time, the major
focus of most of these projects has been on women, femininities, and sometimes sexualities, which are primarily discussed
in relation to patriarchy and gender inequalities. Masculinities,
meanwhile, remain on the fringe of academic discussion to date.
This paper aims to discuss the underproblematization of men
and masculinities in the post-Soviet context with a particular
focus on Ukraine. It offers an overview of the dynamics and contextual peculiarities of the development of men and masculinities studies, questions their comparability with the “Western”
history of this discipline, and discusses the potential of this field
of studies in the post-Soviet context.
Despite the growing field of gender studies in the post-Soviet context,
issues of men and masculinities remain on the fringe of academic
interest. This paper discusses the underproblematization of men and
masculinities in the post-Soviet context with a larger focus on Ukraine.
It offers an overview of the dynamics and contextual peculiarities of
the development of men and masculinities studies, questions their
comparability with ‘Western’ history of this discipline, and discusses
the potential of this field of study in the post-Soviet context.
KEY WORDS: men and masculinities studies, gender, post-Soviet
context, Ukraine.
Gender studies in
Western academia
Academic interest in the analysis of men and masculinities
from a gender perspective is quite recent, not only in postSoviet countries, but also in Anglo-Saxon countries (Australia,
the US, and Great Britain), where this field of studies primarily
emerged.1 The explicit emergence of this field dates back only to
the late 1970s. The initial interest in men and masculinities from
a gender perspective is related to the second wave of feminism,
as well as to other, rather mixed factors, such as gay liberation
movements, the spread of both pro-feminist and antifeminist
men’s rights organizations, growing public concerns with the
changing roles of men, and debates on the crisis of masculinity. Despite the different agendas pursued by these initiatives
— which ranged from criticizing and combating patriarchy to
protecting men’s traditional roles — they contributed to the recognition of men’s gendered experience and questioned the concept of masculinity. Strengthening emancipatory movements
and discourses related to gender and sexuality coincided with
the development of gender, LGBT, queer, and men and masculinities studies in academia in North America and Europe. The
pro-feminist men and masculinities studies aimed to contribute
to a more critical analysis of men’s experiences, one that did
not seek to empower men, but instead constituted an important
exploration of gender power relations by looking at how power
is reproduced, sustained, and normalized in relation to men. To
emphasize this pro-feminist orientation of the contemporary
research, the field is sometimes labeled “critical studies on men
and masculinities”.2
The dominant analytical perspectives in men and masculinities studies have been substantially reconsidered since the late
1970s.3 The key emphasis of the first wave of studies on men
and masculinities was to demonstrate the socially constructed
nature of masculinity and its detrimental effects on men’s psy-
peer-reviewed essay
chological and physical well-being, but
since then — as a result of the immense
criticism this approach received — the
focus has shifted to complex relations of
masculinity and power. The second wave
of men and masculinities studies (since
the 1980s) emphasized the limitations
of sex role theory and drew attention to
pluralities of men’s experiences. Inspired
by Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, R. W.
Connell4 introduced the concept of hegemonic masculinity, which has become
one of the most influential in the field.
Some of the books on men and masculinities studies published in the post-Soviet space:
The third wave of men and masculinities
Sharon Bird and Sergei Zherebkin (eds.), Naslazhdenie byt’ muzhchinoi: Zapadnye teorii masstudies (since the two thousand aughts)
culinnosti i postssovetskie praktiki [The pleasure of being a man: Western theories of mashas been inspired by post structuralism,
culinity and post-Soviet practices] (Saint Petersburg: Aleteya, 2008); Igor Kon, Muzhchina
intersectionality theories, and queer and
v meniaiushchemsia mire [A man in a changing world] (Moscow: Vremia, 2009); Tetyana
postcolonial studies. It has deepened the
Bureychak, Sotsiologia masculinnosti [Sociology of masculinity], (Lviv: Magnolia, 2011).
focus of analysis on material and discursive gender power relations, and on linkages between social action, power, and
fluid, contingent, and performative identity processes. Despite the growing recognition of cultural diverof gender-egalitarian principles in current Ukrainian legislation,
sities and global and transnational processes, the Anglo-Saxon
the dominant public discourses and practices remain patriartradition continues to dominate men and masculinities studies.
Challenges of the
post-Soviet context
The post-Soviet context represents dynamics of political, social,
and gender transformations that are rather different from those
found in Western Europe and North America. Although particular aspects of gender agendas in post-Soviet states may vary due
to local political, economic, cultural, and religious situations, the
Soviet heritage is one of the important common reference points
in the process of establishing new gender hierarchies. It affects
the current nation-building processes and visions of gender
relations. One of the important peculiarities of some post-Soviet
countries, including Ukraine, lies in the parallel coexistence of
mutually exclusive gender agendas, i.e. gender-egalitarian and
gender-traditional discourses. The former reflects the aspiration of the country to be seen as a part of Europe and to follow
its democratic traditions. Ukraine is one
of the few post-Soviet countries that has
adopted a special law on equal rights and
opportunities of women and men5 and
has supported a range of state initiatives
aimed at promoting gender equality. At
the same time, the absence of effective
mechanisms and efforts to enforce the
legislation on gender equality, combined
with regular sexist speeches by leading
Ukrainian politicians, reveal the merely
formal or declarative character of these
legal initiatives. Despite the integration
The popularity of the gender-traditional discourse is largely
connected to resistance to the communist past, a resistance that
has become vital for the framing of national identity in the postSoviet Ukraine. According to the new national narratives, restoration of traditional gender relations is often presented as a way
to revitalize the Ukrainian nation, to preserve the family, and to
renew moral traditions that the Soviet system destroyed. These
views have received particular support from the national media,
as well as from political, religious, and non-governmental organizations. This tendency, also common in other postcommunist
and postsocialist countries, is sometimes referred to as a “patriarchal renaissance”.6 The situation in recent years is particularly
aggravated by the advent of “anti-gender organizations”, by the
intensification of a self-styled “moral agenda”, and by legislative
initiatives to ban abortion and “propaganda for homosexuality”.7 There has been a wide range of initiatives of far-right and religious groups
aimed at the protection of traditional
Christian values, the traditional family,
and national identity. The form of these
initiatives has varied from Internet attacks and trolling of organizations and
persons promoting gender equality issues to the organization of massive street
demonstrations (called “family carnivals”) and violent attacks against events
and people connected with LGBT issues.
The common discourse behind most
“Ukraine is one
of the few postSoviet countries
that has adopted
a special law on
equal rights and
opportunities of
women and men.”
peer-reviewed essay
of these initiatives and attacks emphasizes corrupt morality, a
weakening of the institution of the family, and the undermining
of national traditions, all of which are seen as consequences of
gender equality politics, feminism, and the visibility of the LGBT
Promoting pro-feminist gender studies in such conditions
is rather challenging, as it goes against the dominant political
and public discourses. Although women and gender studies are
taught in many Ukrainian universities nowadays, the field is still
not formally recognized. Even where courses on gender studies
have been introduced, they often have a marginal status within
the curriculum and are treated as unimportant and unserious,
e.g., as an attempt to follow fashion, or as a mere diversion for
the students. Apart from the symbolic devaluation of gender
studies, some other common challenges for the development
of this academic field are connected with the dearth of good
academic resources in the Ukrainian and Russian languages, the
inaccessibility of international academic databases and the most
recent international scholarship in the field, and the limited
number of translated works even by the classical gender studies
and feminist writers. Although this situation has improved, the
problem remains significant. All these challenges are highly relevant to men and masculinities studies.
Gender studies in the post-Soviet context originated from
women’s studies. Despite the broadening of the scope of problems discussed and the diversification of the research agenda
of the humanities and social sciences by the recent addition of
gender perspectives, the focus on women remains dominant
in gender studies in Ukraine. An explicit academic interest in
men and masculinities in the post-Soviet space has emerged
predominantly in Russia in the early part of the past decade. In
contrast to Anglo-Saxon history of men’s studies, this interest
was to a much smaller degree connected with grass-root activism and pro- or anti-feminist men’s organizations. The interest
originated within academia as a part of gender and women
studies. The temporal dynamics of the academic development
of research on men and masculinities in Russia is reflected in
the publications on these issues.8 The first academic books
on men and masculinities from a gender perspective were
published at the beginning of the two thousand aughts. This
publication process, however, was not sustained, and had
significantly decreased by the end of the decade. Despite the
peculiarities of the Ukrainian context,
the similarities of the post-Soviet gender
processes in Russia and Ukraine make
these publications important and relevant resources for Ukrainian scholars.
Men and masculinities studies as
an academic subject is still marginally
represented in Ukrainian academia.
Although many gender studies courses
taught at the universities integrate
discussion of masculinities, teaching
men and masculinities studies as a separate discipline is still
uncommon. Only two universities have offered such courses up
to now.9 Although the reception of these courses has been positive,10 this situation cannot be seen as representative. The fact
that there are no similar courses indicates low interest in this
area or challenges in its fulfillment, insufficient institutional support, and a lack of experts in the field.
Western theories and
post-Soviet practices
The influence of the Anglo-Saxon theoretical traditions on the
development of men and masculinities studies in the post-Soviet
context is in evidence on at least two levels — terminological and
theoretical. The Anglo-Saxon terminology in gender studies is
widely applied and integrated in the vocabulary of post-Soviet
gender studies. It has, in particular, resulted in the transliteration of the term “masculinity” and its validation as a category of
gender analysis. This shows that it was easier to adopt what was,
in the local context, a relatively value-free term, instead of redefining the semantically loaded term muzhnist (“masculinity” in
Another influence of the Anglo-Saxon theoretical tradition
on the post-Soviet men and masculinities studies is the application of Anglo-Saxon theories in the analysis of post-Soviet
masculinities and men’s experiences. The problematization
of the applicability of the Western theoretical heritage to the
post-Soviet context is not unique and has been discussed by
gender studies scholars for a long time.11 This discussion is also
highly relevant to men and masculinities studies, which, due to
its rather short history, has not developed any significant theoretical models that would be able to capture the peculiarities
of the local masculinities. Given the insufficiency of local methodological tools, importing theoretical terms from the West
becomes almost inevitable. To legitimize this practice, Igor Kon
remarks that, since there is much more research on men and
masculinities conducted in the West, it is likely that the quality
of the research is higher. “If you have little milk, how can you
get the cream?” he asks, metaphorically referring to the insufficiency and potentially lower quality of the local research on
men and masculinities.12 At the same time, the uncritical application of theoretical tools developed in a different context
may be problematic, which is not commonly recognized by the
post-Soviet scholars.
“the AngloSaxon tradition
to dominate
men and
Analysis of publications on men and
masculinities in Ukrainian academia
gives a good picture of the content and
accents of the research in this field. Most
of them have been published since the
second half of the two thousand aughts,
which indicates the newness of interest in men and masculinities issues in
Ukraine. The publications examine a
wide range of problems, such as the
peer-reviewed essay
socialization of boys, discussed by Martsenyuk;13 fatherhood,
by Koshulap14 and Martesnyuk;15 nationalism and masculinity,
by Bureychak;16 Cossackhood as a contemporary model of masculinity and a historical practice, by Bureychak17 and Zherebkin;18 dominant social roles of Ukrainian men, by Janey et al.;19
homeless men, by Riabchuk;20 men and sports, by Bureychak;21
Martsenyuk, and Shvets;22 men as clients of social work, by Strelnyk;23 representations of masculinities in Ukrainian literature,
by Zagurskaya24 and Matusiak;25 and men’s subcultures, by Hrymych.26
Analysis of references to Anglo-Saxon theories in the works of
Ukrainian scholars reveals the following common patterns: (a)
key concepts in the field are mentioned without being followed
by an explanation of their application in the research;27 (b) Western theories are most commonly referenced without reflection
on their relevance and applicability to the local context;28 (c)
Western theories are often taken for granted as appropriate and
accurate with respect to the local context, and they are rarely
questioned or modified.29 One can thus observe a minimal critical perspective towards the application of the Western theoretical tools in the research of Ukrainian scholars. This situation can
also be seen in frames of post-colonial theory as a kind of colonization of the mind,30 where Western feminist theories are perceived as normative points of references regardless of context.
The potential of studies
in the post-Soviet context
Apart from many structural problems that hinder the development of critical research on men and masculinities, an important reason for the low interest in the studies on men and
masculinities in the post-Soviet context is misunderstanding or
undervaluation of their potential by gender studies scholars in
Ukraine. The few attempts to include the discussion of men and
masculinities in gender research and gender studies have been
accomplished mostly as a way to compensate for the previous
lack of interest in this subject, and as recognition that men, too,
are gendered. Although these research motivations are important, they are not enough. Attempts to counter the strengthening of the patriarchal gender order in many post-Soviet states
should not ignore the critical potential of research on men and
masculinities. Problematizing and counteracting the power
hierarchy, violence, discrimination, and symbolic exclusion
cannot be effective if it is focused only on the experiences of
people traditionally categorized as vulnerable and oppressed.
Since men or particular groups of men commonly benefit from
patriarchal privileges, leaving men and masculinities issues unexplored means leaving those privileges unexamined, invisible,
and hence unchanged. How this situation can be changed is an
important question. It is doubtful that any significant and effective initiative for the promotion of studies on men and masculinities will be introduced at the political level in the near future.
Thus, a likely positive scenario for promotion of this field can be
fulfilled by strengthening individual scholarly initiatives, consolidating efforts by scholars through diverse academic projects,
and promoting crossdisciplinary and transdisciplinary gender
studies and studies on men and masculinities. This would open
up new possibilities for fruitful dialogs and joint research. Another important vector for contributing to greater visibility and
institutionalization of men’s studies is to transcend academic
boundaries and establish closer cooperation between gender
studies scholars and others involved in strengthening the profeminist agenda, e.g. grassroots organizations, the media, and
policy makers.
The analysis of the development of the research interest in issues
of men and masculinities provides evidence that this direction of
studies has not yet become a legitimate and strategic component
of gender studies in the post-Soviet context. The experience of
Ukraine in this respect does not stand out, despite the fact that
the political climate there is less conservative, at least on a formal level, than in many other post-Soviet states when it comes to
the development of pro-feminist gender studies. The dominant
discussion of gender relations and structures, inequalities and
discrimination mostly focuses on their consequences for women
as one of the most vulnerable groups. The knowledge about
women thus remains knowledge of the “Other”, i.e., the group
that is systematically discriminated against and that does not fit
the norm. At the same time, the mechanisms by which certain
social groups are empowered — for example, white middle and
upper-class heterosexual Ukrainian men — the reproduction of
the gender system which supports these gendered hierarchies,
and the analysis of differences in men’s experiences are still
poorly explored. Although there have been some attempts to
“add men” into gender analysis, so far these attempts have primarily been made in order to balance the gender perspective
and demonstrate that gender is not only about women. Critical
analysis and deconstruction of men’s privileges, which could
intellectually and politically invigorate post-Soviet gender studies, has not yet taken place. Pro-feminist men and masculinities
studies in Ukraine is emerging under rather problematic antifeminist ideological conditions. This, combined with limited
local academic resources, limited access to international scholarship, and undervaluation of the critical potential of this field,
further marginalizes this area of studies and makes developing it
a tremendous challenge. ≈
Tetyana Bureychak, Open position fellow, Tema Genus,
Linköping University.
peer-reviewed essay
1 I refer to and discuss “Western” academia here and below primarily in the
sense of the Anglo-Saxon academic tradition.
2 Michael Kimmel, Jeff Hearn, and R. W. Connell (eds.), Handbook of Studies
on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2005).
3 Tim Edwards, Cultures of Masculinity (Oxon: Routledge, 2006).
4 Tim Carrigan, Bob Connell, and John Lee, “Towards a New Sociology
of Masculinity”, Theory and Society 14/5 (1985): 551—604; R. W. Connell,
Masculinities (Cambridge: Polity, 1995); R. W. Connell and James W.
Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept”,
Gender and Society 19/5 (2005): 829—859.
5 The law of Ukraine “On ensuring equal rights and opportunities of women
and men” came into force on January 1, 2006.
6 Lynne Attwood, “The Post-Soviet Women in the Move to the Market: A
Return to Domesticity and Dependence?”, in Women in Russia and Ukraine,
ed. Rosalind J. Marsh, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),
255—268; Elena Zdravmyslova and Anna Temkina, Sovetskiy Etakraticheskiy
Gendernyi Poryadok [Soviet Etacratic Gender Order], in Rossiyskiy
Gendernyi Poryadok: Sociologicheskiy Podhod [Russian Gender Order:
Sociological Approach], ed. Elena Zdravomyslova and Anna Temkina (St
Petersburg: Publishing House of the European University, 2007), 96—137.
7 Tetyana Bureychak, “Gender Conservatism and Homophobia as Strategies
of Moral Salvation in Contemporary Ukraine”, Working Papers of the Second
International Congress of Belarusian Studies 2 (2013): 295—298.
8 In all, around twelve academic books which explicitly discuss men and
masculinities in gender perspective have been published in Russia since 2000.
9 A course in “Masculinity and Men’s Studies” has been taught at the
Department of Sociology, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy
by Tamara Martsenyuk since 2009. A course in “Masculinities” and later
“Sociology of Masculinity” was taught at the Department of the History
and Theory of Sociology, I. Franko National University of Lviv from 2006
to 2012.
10There were no significant formal or informal hinders to the introduction
and teaching of the courses. The courses have also been very popular
among the students.
11 Elena Zdravmyslova and Anna Temkina, “Issledovaniya Zhenshchin
i Gendernye Issledovniya na Zapade i v Rossii” [Women’s studies
and gender studies in the West and Russia], Obshchestvennye Nauki i
Sovremennost’ [Social Sciences and the Present], 6 (1999): 177—185.
12 Igor Kon, Muzhchina v Menyayushchemsya Mire [A man in a changing
world] (Moscow: Vremia, 2009): 8.
13 Tamara Martsenyuk, “Konstruyuvannya Masculinnosti Sered Ditey
Shkilnoho Viku” [Constructing masculinity among children of school age]
Genderniy zhurnal Ya [Gender journal “I”]. 2 (2008): 16—20.
Harrison, Marina Blagojevic (New York, Oxon: Routledge, 2013), 219—238.
18 Sergey Zherebkin, “Sexual’nost’ v Ukraine: gendernye ‘politiki
identifikatsii’ v epohu kozachestva” [Sexuality in Ukraine: gender
“politics of identification” in the Cossack age], Gendernye Issledovaniya 1
(1998): 224—242.
19 Bradley A. Janey, Sergei Plitin, Janet L. Muse-Burke, and Valintine
M. Vovk, “Masculinity in Post-Soviet Ukraine: An Exploratory Factor
Analysis”, Culture, Society and Masculinity 1 (2009): 137—154.
20 Anastasiya Riabchuk, “Destruktyvni Masculinnosti v Postradyanskomu
Konteksti na Prykladi Zhyttevyh Istoriy Kyivs’kyh ‘Bomzhiv” [Destructive
masculinities in the post-Soviet context on the case of the life stories of
homeless men in Kyiv], Materials of the Conference: Men’s Problems in the
Context of Equal Rights and Opportunities. (Vinnytsia: Vidkryte suspil’stvo
(2008)), 12—13.
21 Tetyana Bureychak, “Sport dlya Ukrainsk’kyh Lytsariv abo Podviyne Dno
Boyovoho Hopaka” [Sports for Ukrainian knights or double bottom of
combat hopak], Gendernyi zhurnal Ya [Gender journal I] 29 (2012): 18—21.
22 Tamara Martsenyuk and Olexandr Shvets, “Konstruyuvannya
Masculinnosti v Instytuti Sportu (na Prykladi Ukrains’kyh Footbolistiv)”
[Construction of masculinity in the social institute of sports (the case of
Ukrainian football players)], Naukovi Zapysky NaUKMA: Sociologichni
Nauky [Research notes of NaUKMA: sociological sciences] (2011): 58—65.
23 Olena Strelnyk, “Genderna Nerivnist’ ta Problemy Cholovikiv yak Klientiv
Social’noi Roboty” [Gender inequality and problems of men as clients
of social services], Metodologia, Teoria ta Praktyka Sociologichnoho
Analizu Suchasnoho Suspilstva [Methodology, Theory, and Practice of the
Sociological Analysis of Contemporary Society] 15 (2009): 547—50.
24 Natalia Zagurskaya, “Ukrainskoe Muzhskoe Telo kak Travmirovannyi
Objekt” [the Ukrainian male body as a traumatized object], Gendernye
Issledovaniya 1 (2006): 206—225.
25 Agnieszhka Matusiak (ed.), Perekhresni Stezhky Ukrainskoho Masculinnoho
Dyskursu: Kultura I Literatura XIX-XXI stolit’ [Crossroads of Ukrainian
Masculine Discourse: Culture and Literature during XIX-XXI centuries]
(Kyiv: Laurus, 2014)
26 Maryana Hrymych (ed.), Zrilist’, Choloviky, Cholovicha Subkul’tura
[Maturity, men, men’s subculture] (Kyiv: Duliby, 2013).
27 Tamara Martsenyuk and Olexandr Shvets, “Konstruyuvannya
Masculinnosti v Instytuti Sportu (na Prykladi Ukrains’kyh Footbolistiv)”,
Naukovi Zapysky NaUKMA: Sociologichni Nauky (2011): 58—65.
28 Ibid.; Tetyana Bureychak, “In Search of Heroes: Vikings and Cossacks in
Present Sweden and Ukraine”, NORMA, Nordic Journal for Masculinities
Studies 7 (2012a): 139—169.
16 Tetyana Bureychak, “Nationalism, Masculinities and Neo-traditionalism
in Contemporary Ukraine: Patterns of Intersection”, AFP Working Papers
2010—2011, 1: 13—24.
29 Olena Strelnyk, “Genderna Nerivnist’ ta Problemy Cholovikiv yak Klientiv
Social’noi Roboty” [Gender inequality and problems of men as clients
of social services], Metodologia, Teoria ta Praktyka Sociologichnoho
Analizu Suchasnoho Suspilstva [Methodology, theory, and practice of the
sociological analysis of contemporary society] 15 (2009): 547—50; Natalia
Zagurskaya, “Ukrainskoe Muzhskoe Telo kak Travmirovannyi Objekt” [the
Ukrainian male body as a traumatized object], Gendernye Issledovaniya
1 (2006): 206—225; Anastasiya Riabchuk, “Destruktyvni Masculinnosti
v Postradyanskomu Konteksti na Prykladi Zhyttevyh Istoriy Kyivs’kyh
‘Bomzhiv” [Destructive masculinities in the post-Soviet context on the
case of the life stories of homeless men in Kyiv], Materials of the Conference
Men’s Problems in the Context of Equal Rights and Opportunities (Vinnytsia:
Vidkryte suspil’stvo, 2008), 12—13.
17 Tetyana Bureychak, “In Search of Heroes: Vikings and Cossacks in Present
Sweden and Ukraine”, NORMA: Nordic Journal for Masculinities Studies 7
(2012): 139—169; Tetyana Bureychak, “Zooming In and Out: Historical Icons
of Masculinity Within and Across Nations”, in Rethinking Transnational
Men: Beyond, Between and Within Nations, ed. Jeff Hearn, Katherine
30 Redi Koobak, Whirling Stories: Postsocialist Feminist Imaginaries and the
Visual Arts, Linköping Studies in Arts and Sciences, no. 564 (Linköping:
Linköping University, 2013); Madina Tlostanova, “Postsocialist ≠
Postcolonial? On post-Soviet Imaginary and Global Coloniality”, Journal of
Postcolonial Writing 48 (2) (2012): 130—142.
14 Iryna Koshulap, “Cash and/or Care: Current Discourses and Practices of
Fatherhood in Ukraine”, in Gender, Politics and Society in Ukraine, ed.
Olena Hankivsky and Anastasiya Salnykova (Toronto: Toronto University
Press, 2012), 362—384.
15 Tamara Martsenyuk, “Vidpovidal’ne Bat’kivstvo ta Genderna Rivnist’”
[Responsible fatherhood and gender equality], Genderniy zhurnal Ya 2
(2008): 12—13.
“gender equality”
Northwestern Russia meets the global
gender equality agenda by Yulia Gradskova
Photo: xavi/flickr
The iconic Soviet statue of a male worker and a kolkhoz woman by
Vera Mukhina symbolizes the ideal of equality under communism.
The article analyzes discourses and practices of gender equality as
a part of Nordic cooperation with Northwestern Russia. I explore how
ideas and institutions of gender equality were approached by those
involved and what problems of “translation” were present. While some
of the representatives of the local authorities in Northwestern Russia
saw cooperation on gender equality as an opportunity to realize the new
ideas, in most of the cases the Soviet-style interpretation of women’s issues as a part of “social problems” and protection of motherhood prevailed.
KEY WORDS: gender equality, Northwestern Russia, NordicRussian cooperation.
fter the annexation of Crimea and the growing international isolation of Russia, it might be difficult to
think about local politics in the Russian subregions1 as
having to accord with the international discourse on
human rights, justice, or gender equality. However, in the more
than 20 years during which Russia was classified as one of the
“transitional” and “post-socialist” countries, it was assumed that
Russian officials, members of city, subregional, and local elective bodies and civil servants of various categories and levels,
would be aware of important international documents regarding
global standards of governance, and would be expected to work
towards the realization of such standards. Among the many
international documents ratified by Russia were the UN’s Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women (CEDAW)2 and the ILO’s Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention (ratified in 1998). Together with the Russian Constitution — which preserved Article 19 from the Soviet
Constitution on equal rights, freedoms, and equal opportunities
for men and women — the international documents constituted
the legal framework during the 1990s and 2000s for different
activities and institutions seeking to support women’s rights and
gender equality.3
This article is devoted to the analysis of the discourses and
practices connected to ideas and institutions of gender equality
using the example of one of the regions of the Russian Federation, Northwestern Russia. I am interested in how the ideas and
institutions of gender equality were approached locally, in particular, by the civil servants involved in the cooperative projects
with Western (mainly Nordic) partners.
The article is the result of my participation in the project on
gender equality politics in the Baltic Sea region4 and is based on
documents and publications on gender equality in Russia as well
as on the interviews with leaders of women’s organizations and
civil servants in Northwestern Russia and organizers of NordicRussian cooperation. In order to protect my informants in the
current hostile political climate with respect to gender equality and feminism in Russia, I refer to them by initials, and have
changed some personal details.
Photo: RIA Novosti
Valentina Tereshkova at a plenary meeting of Soviet Women's Committee July 1968.
Gender equality
on the democracy agenda
The beginning of the political and economic transformation
in Russia that started with perestroika and continued after the
breakdown of the Soviet Union gave birth to a vital and diverse
women’s activism that was supported and encouraged through
broader programs of support for civil society and women’s
rights.5 The Northwest of Russia played a special role in this process. It is the only region of Russia having a border with the EU
(indeed with several EU countries, since 2004) and is the region
closest to the northern part of Europe, which is known for its
gender equality achievements. These factors contributed to the
rapid development of the multilevel Nordic-Russian cooperation, where ideas of women’s rights and women’s political and
civic participation played an important role.6
According to CP, one of the coordinators of cooperation with
the Baltic countries and Russia on gender issues (in the Nordic
Council of Ministers), from the beginning the Nordic organizations viewed the work against discrimination on the grounds
of gender as very important.7 The Nordic cooperation partners
(state departments as well as independent organizations) were
encouraged to start working together with all public institutions in the ex-socialist countries that were ready to work for
the protection of women’s rights in one way or another.8 As for
Russia, during the 1990s and early 2000s, the cooperation with
the regional and local authorities and civil servants seemed to be
very promising, in particular because of a substantial autonomy
of subregions from the center as a result of the political reforms
of the early 1990s. Indeed, the head of the subregion was usually
elected to her/his post, while the subregional legislative body
was responsible for some specific set of subregional laws. All of
this allowed researchers and some politicians to look at the sub-
regions as unities that could be analyzed from the perspective
of different political regimes.9 The relative autonomy of the subregional authorities was important for the plans to create some
kind of local machinery for gender equality in Northwestern
Russia in the process of cooperation with Nordic organizations
and under the pressure of the local women’s associations.
The cooperative activities that included the civil servants
varied, including invitations to join the delegations from different subregions of Northwestern Russia to big international
conferences, training for personnel and volunteers of the crisis
centers, big yearly women’s forums (such as the one in Karelia),
and excursions for civil servants, leaders of women’s organizations, gender researchers, ombuds, and other representatives of
Russian society to the Nordic countries in order to observe how
gender equality institutions function there.10 As is the case with
other international and national organizations seeking to spread
ideas on gender equality and women’s rights, Nordic agencies
and organizations saw distribution of knowledge about democracy, gender, and discrimination to be one of the important aims
of cooperation. Indeed, the partners in Russian subregions were
expected to learn about democratic citizenship and ways of
defending equality of rights of all the citizens regardless of their
gender and sexual identity.
The documents produced in connection with the cooperative
efforts mainly showed “best practices”, and presented the Nordic countries as the gender equality experts. At the same time,
the Nordic cooperation partners mostly ignored the fact that the
Russian population was well familiar with the ideas of equality
between men and women due to Soviet equality policies. For
example, the President of the Nordic Council, Rannveig Gudmundsdottir, in her speech in St Petersburg in 2005, expressed
the hope that one day Russia would experience the same level of
gender equality as women in the West: “Little by little, they [the
Russian women] are also beginning to enjoy the same opportunities to play an active part in society and politics as women in the
West have enjoyed for decades now”.11 Such an evaluation of the
situation in Russia paved the way for joining the transnational
feminist agenda on the promotion of women’s rights in Russia
and “unproblematically” making a connection between positive
changes for women and the end of state socialism and the beginning of democratization. In the process of cooperation, the positive Nordic experience of gender equality and democracy had
to be “translated into Russian” — linguistically but also in terms
of more general social adaptation.12 However, it was no easy task
taking into account the Soviet history of the politics of “equality
of women and men”. For example, the “big campaigns” typical
of feminist organizations in Western Europe did not work properly in the post-Soviet space: these campaigns were rather suspect to the extent that they were “too connected to the practices
used during the period of state socialism”.13 Furthermore, the
Nordic model of gender equality was inseparable from the ideas
of women’s participation in wage labor and the goal of achieving
the same economic status as men. However, as had been shown
in the publications on cooperation with American feminist
organizations, many women in Russia (as well as many women
in other parts of the world), did not see work as “unproblematically liberatory”,14 especially under current neoliberal trends.15
Obstacles and possibilities
for gender equality
The collected interviews and documents show that the reactions
of the local civil servants from the different levels of the subregional hierarchy to “gender equality” as a goal for cooperation
were diverse. At the beginning, in the mid-1990s, the subregional
and local authorities were rather surprised when confronted
with the expectation that they support the NGOs working for
gender equality and the prevention of discrimination on the
grounds of gender. The story told to me by the head of the Gender Center in Karelia, LB, illustrates this very well.
When LB, after visiting the 1995 Beijing conference and a
couple of other international meetings of Eastern European
women supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, returned to
Petrozavodsk, Karelia, and established her organization there, she
decided to start a cooperative effort with the subregional authorities. However, the local authorities were not ready for such cooperation, she recalled bitterly. Indeed, she had to explain to the
representatives of the subregional government that “Russia has
signed all these (international) documents on gender, thus (at the level of
the region) they should be followed”.
The local civil servants did not trust
her and wrote a letter to the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs in Moscow asking
for explanations with regard to the
documents that were signed by the
Russian state. According to LB, after
receiving confirmation from Mos-
cow, and after numerous long discussions, the head of the local
administration finally decided in 1998 to create the special commission dedicated to the situation of women in Karelia.16
Later on, following the tactics learned in the seminars on lobbying for women’s issues that had been arranged as part of cooperative effort, LB and her colleagues attempted to get the female
civil servants interested in women’s NGOs, and women’s rights.
It was by no means easy, however:
We were trying to engage women from the government
in our work. We were drinking with some of them, had
dinner with the others, were helping to take care of
others’ children — so everybody had the possibility of
getting involved.
In time, however, the civil servants from different regions and
levels started to participate in the projects involving crisis
centers, support for women’s NGOs and the organization of
seminars and workshops on different issues related to gender
equality.17 My study on civil servants supports mainly the data received by several researchers with respect to the rapid growth of
women’s organizations in Russia: it was usually explained with
the help of “window of opportunity” theories.18 Much like those
NGO leaders who, in the situation where civil society activism
became popular after the years of “stagnation” under late socialism, wanted to use their organizational skills and ideas related
to the opportunity provided by grants to support new women’s
organizations, some of the civil servants were ready to take advantage of possibilities for cooperation in order to use their organizational skills and to bring some of those institutions that were
functioning abroad into Russia and display their usefulness.
The subregion that probably achieved most in the way of the
visibility of gender-related issues was the city of St Petersburg.
That achievement was not only connected, most probably, to
greater financial support from abroad, knowledge resources in
the form of gender programs in several universities, and a large
number of women’s organizations passionately engaged in activism, but also can be explained by the active position of several
civil servants who considered the implementation of gender
equality to be important. One of them, X, was one of the key persons in the city “equality machinery” (consisting from three staff
members).19 The last was centered on the Council for Coordination of Realization of the Gender Equality Policy created in 2004
in the St Petersburg’s government. This Council was responsible
for the realization of the Statement
for Advancement of Gender Equality; the last version of the statement (the planning up to 2015) was
posted on the webpage of the state
administration.20 This statement is a
unique document for the Northwest
region and for Russia as a whole due
to its direct use of “gender equality”
in the text. In addition, the state-
“however, it was no
easy task taking
into account the
soviet history of the
politics of ’equality
of women and men .”
ment, from a purely rhetorical standpoint, seems to be fully in
accordance with UN and EU policy on gender equality; the main
aims of the activities include the creation of the conditions for
equal participation in decision making, equal rights, and equal
treatment on the labor market, equal access to social protection
and health care, prevention of gender related violence, and antidiscriminative measures in the sphere of education.
Conversations with several experts, including representative of
the St Petersburg office of the Nordic Council of Ministers (Norden) and C, an expert on gender from St Petersburg University,
showed that a lot of the “invisible” work for the adoption of the
statement and the beginning of its implementation had been
possible to a large extent thanks to the personal efforts of X.21
In the early two-thousand aughts, X had been a student of the
school for civil servants in St Petersburg, where she attended
courses on gender, among other disciplines, prepared in coordination with the Moscow Center for Gender Studies.22 She had
become interested in the problems of gender equality and in the
application of theoretical knowledge to city policy. Thus, in this
case international cooperation on issues of gender equality at
the level of subregional government and authorities led to important achievements not least as a result of personal efforts on
the part of a particular civil servant.
On the other hand, the success of this cooperative project
could be seen as rather limited if we consider its merely declarative character. Subsequent developments of the situation around
the statement indicate that the success of the creation of the local
machinery was only temporary. Indeed, the composition, functions, and name of the city government’s department responsible
for the realization of the statement were changed many times,23
while progress towards the realization of the goals described in
the document ceased for all intents and purposes around 2010.
The implementation
of gender equality
The ideas and institutions of “gender equality” that were
brought by the Nordic and other “Western” partners to Northwestern Russia were, as noted above, usually presented as
components of the programs for the support of democracy and
development. However, as the collected material shows, most
of the local leaders of women’s organizations as well as civil servants involved in the gender equality programs had to translate
these ideas and institutions into the local context. Such a contextualization often led to significant changes in the interpretations
of goals and policies connected to
the sphere of women’s rights and
the improvement of the situation
of women. As my informant C, the
gender researcher and participant
in the elaboration of the St Petersburg gender equality statement,
conveyed to me, “gender” in the
title of the regional program could
be seen as a kind of neutral and un-
problematic term: “It is something nice and not very clear, not
like ‘women’ or ‘feminism’.
Indeed, many of my interviewees, even when discussing issues of rights and discrimination, were still focusing on social
rights and their “gender” aspects. Thus, GM, the civil servant
from Novgorod, was proud that, during the years of active cooperation with foreign countries, the gender researchers from the
university actively cooperated with local authorities and influenced the policy documents: the program for improvement of
the situation of women in the Novgorod subregion was adopted.
Still, as IB, the leader of an organization of businesswomen
closely involved with the local authorities, sees it, it was not exactly a program trying to increase equality:
But the focus was on the social problems. It was not
about women’s education and transformation. It provided support for families with many children, the organization of holidays. . . . It was from 2001.24
At the same time, IB mentioned financial problems as a significant impediment to the successful collaboration of women’s organizations and local authorities in following the Nordic way:
Concerning the Swedish experience, for example,
we were trying to create these resource centers. We
know how it should be. But nobody gave us money. In
practice, we continue working as such a resource center — we give consultations, we help different women
find places in different structures. But, as opposed to
Sweden, there is no support for such resource centers
that deal with women entrepreneurs, or women trying
to participate in decision-making at a different level.
And there (in Sweden), such organizations could get
money for an office, for activities, some small salaries.
We do not have anything like that.25
H, a civil servant from St Petersburg positioned rather high in
the local hierarchy, presented a narrative on the development
of cooperation with Nordic countries and the progress of gender
equality policies in St Petersburg as Soviet-style stories about
“victorious progress”, in which “socialism” seems to have been
replaced by “gender equality”. She was ready to recognize the
importance of cooperation, especially in the early post-Soviet
period: “We must be grateful to those programs, the humanitarian, social programs that are realized by the (Nordic) Council of
Ministers, among others”.26 However, the leading role in her story
belonged to the city authorities,
while women’s organizations were
presented only as “helpers” who
“manifest quite high activity” in
one or another campaign led by the
authorities. Also, the women’s organizations were described as those
mainly dealing with giving practical
“the women’s
organizations were
described as those
mainly dealing with
giving practical help
to families.”
Photo: EPA © EU/Neighbourhood Info
photo: Yadid levy
A sustainable society requires gender equality, because a work force
that includes women creates a more sustainable economy.
Training on gender inequality in a school in Smolensk, Russia, as part
of the EU Partnership, September 24, 2011.
help to families, women, and children, those who receive state
financing in order to “perform tasks and provide services important for the state”.27 The feminist or political women’s organizations were not mentioned at all.
Finally, another civil servant from St Petersburg, J, remembering the story of local politics on gender equality, stated that
even if the difficult word “gender” was not easy to explain, the
campaign for gender equality was more a success than a failure:
with women’s organizations in order to establish institutions that
would protect the rights of women. In such cases, however, their
interpretations frequently seem to be more in accordance with
Soviet notions of “solutions to women’s problems”.
Nevertheless, the emphasis on social problems and social
rights made by many of my interviewees (as opposed to the emphasis on democracy assistance promoted by most of the Nordic
cooperation programs) could also be seen as an attempt to pay
attention to the “local problems”, to be more in accord with
the post-Soviet context in which neoliberal economic reforms
contributed to a decrease in the standard of living for a large part
of the population, especially in regard to family welfare. Even if
this emphasis on the “social” as opposed to the “political” could
easily be explained by the growing strength of the authoritarian
regime in Russia, the social aspects of the “women’s question” in
contemporary Russia could hardly be ignored (see, for example,
recent publications of the Egida organization from St Petersburg
dealing with the protection of women’s rights as workers29).
Finally, the unsuccessful “translation” of “gender equality”
into Russian reveals numerous difficulties and indicates that the
realization of the transnational feminist agenda could meet with
serious obstacles not only in the countries of the “Third World”,
but also in some former “Second World” countries. ≈
It was the first plan in Russia for gender equality for
women. . . . We made an agreement with all the heads
of administration in the city — there are 18 — we made
an agreement with all the heads of the committees, thus
we received 63 confirmations. . . . And everywhere
we had to explain: What should be done so that men
and women are equal and for the term “gender equality” to be used like other Russian words. In this way, we
explained what “gender” means.28
On the basis of the material studied, we find that cooperation
on gender equality issues was a difficult task with contradictory
outcomes. While now it seems obvious that the political agenda
of gender equality has failed in Russia (at least for the term of the
current political leadership), and that the current Russian government is not interested in independent women’s organizations protecting rights and democracy, the collected materials show rather
a complex picture of local discourses and evaluations of attempts
to implement gender equality in the region during the last twenty
years. Indeed, in some situations, the previous participation of
the Russian local authorities and other state-related bodies in
such cooperative efforts seems to be manipulative — an attempt
to use cooperation and “gender” for their own political goals; in
other cases, though, civil servants sincerely tried to cooperate
Yulia Gradskova, associate professor in History,
Södertörn University, institute of contemporary history.
1The Russian Federation consists of 83 subregions, most of which are
called oblast. Among the other kinds of subregions are 21 autonomous
republics and two federal cities, Moscow and St.Petersburg. The
Northwestern Federal District (Severo-Zapadnyi federalnyi okrug), or
Northwest Russia, is one of the federal districts of the Russian Federation.
It consists of eleven subjects of the Russian Federation, including the city
of St.Petersburg, the Republic of Karelia, and the Archangelsk, Novgorod,
Murmansk, and Kaliningrad oblasts.
2This had already been ratified under the Soviet Union, in 1981.
3 Svetlana Polenina, Prava zhenshchin v sisteme prav cheloveka:
Mezhdunarodnyi i natsionalnyi aspekt [Women’s rights in the system
of human rights: National and international aspect](Moskva: Institut
gosudarstva i prava RAN, 2002); Natalia Rimashevskaia, O. A. Voronina
in E. A. Ballaeva red. Prava zhenshchin i instituty gendernogo ravenstva v
regionakh Rossii [Women’s rights and institutions of gender equality in the
Russian regions](Moscow: Maks-Press, 2010). See also Russia’s last report
to CEDAW, Report on the Implementation in the Russian Federation of
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women, (2010). Available at http://daccess-ddsny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/
4 “Mourning becomes Electra: Gender discrimination and human rights:
altered relations among international organs, collectives and individuals
from a Nordic and Eastern European perspective 1980—2009”. The
project was realized in 2010—2014 and supported by the Swedish Research
Council and Baltic Sea Foundation.
5See e.g. Elena Zdravomyslova, “Perestroika and Feminist Critique,” in
Women and Transformation in Russia, ed. Aino Saarinen, Kirsti Ekonen
and Valentina Uspenskaia (London: Routledge, 2014) 111—126; Valerie
Sperling, Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering
Transition (Cambridge University Press, 1999); Julie Hemment,
Empowering Women in Russia: Activism, Aid and NGOs (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.2007); Nadezhda Azhgikhina, Propushchennyi
siuzhet: Istoria novogo nezavisimogo zhenskogo dvizhenia Rossii s nachala
1990-kh godov do nashikh dnei v zerkale SMI [Omitted case: The history of
the new independent women’s movement in Russia from the beginning
of the 1990s up to today: media presentations.](Moscow: Tsentr
obshchestvennoi informatsii [Center of Public Information], 2008).
6 Aino Saarinen, Kirsti Ekonen, Valentina Uspenskaia, eds., Women and
Transformation in Russia, (London: Routledge, 2014).
7 Interview with CP, former coordinator of the Nordic Council of Ministers,
Copenhagen, October 2012.
Sharing a Common Goal: Nordic-Baltic Cooperation on Gender Equality
1997—2007 (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2008).
9 See e.g. Johnny Rodin, Rethinking Russian Federalism: The politics of
Intergovernmental Relationships and Federal Reforms in the Turn of the
Millennium, (Stockholm: Stockholm University Press, 2006); Aleksandr
Sungurov, Institut Ombudsmana: Traditsii i Sovremennaia Praktika [The
ombudsman institution: traditions and contemporary situation] (St.
Peterburg: Norma, 2005); Rimashevskaia et al, Prava zhenshchin.
16 Interview with LB, Karelia, February 8, 2010.
17 Meri Kulmala, for example, states that, in contrast to other subregions,
many collaborative structures with the government were established in
Karelia. Meri Kulmala, “Karelian Women’s Network a (Feminist) Women’s
Movement?”, in Women and Transformation in Russia, ed. Aino Saarinen,
Kirsti Ekonen, and Valentina Uspenskaia. (London: Routledge, 2014)
18Julia Brygalina and Anna Temkina, “The Development of Feminist
Organizations in St Petersburg!” in Between Sociology and History: Essays
on Microhistory, Collective Action, and Nation-Building, Anna-Maija
Castren, Markku Lonkila & Matti Peltonen eds. (Helsinki: SKS, Finnish
Literature Society, 2004) 207—226; Sperling, Organizing Women.
19 Interview with X, civil servant, St Petersburg, June 2013.
Kontseptsiia razvitiia gendernoi politiki Sankt-Peterburga do 2015 goda
[Statement on the development of gender policy of St.Petersburg
till 2015](2007). Available at http://gov.spb.ru/gov/admin/otrasl/trud/
gender/2007_02_21. Last accessed in 2012. The statement was removed
from the new version of the citygovernment website in 2013.
21 Interview with C, gender expert, St Petersburg. April 7, 2010.
22See the article on teaching gender courses for civil servants by Marina
Kashina, “Gendernoe obrazovanie gosudarstvennykh sluzhashchikh:
Problemy presentatsii i realizatsii,”[Gender education of the civil servants:
Problems of presentation and realization] in Gender kak instrument
poznania i preobrazovaniia obshchestva: material mezhdunarodnoi
konferentsii Moskva, 4—5 aprelia 2005 goda [Gender as an instrument
of knowing and transforming the society: Materials of the international
conference, Moscow April 4–5, 2005], ed. EA. Ballaeva, O.G. Voronina,
L.G. Luniakova, (Moskva: MTsGI, 2006). http://www.gender.ru/pages/
23 Renamed in 2010, the Department of social protection, maternity and
childhood, family and demographic politics.
24 Interview with IB, leader of a women’s organization, and GM, civil
servant, Novgorod oblast, April 29, 2011.
25 Ibid.
26 Interview with H., St Petersburg, May 2013.
27 Such organizations were qualified by the Finnish researcher Suvi
Salmenniemi as “Soviet-style” organizations — Suvi Salmenniemi,
Democratization and Gender in Contemporary Russia (London and New
York: Routledge, 2008).
28 Interview with J, St Petersburg, 05.2013.
Uroki zhenskogo liderstva [Lessons of women’s leadership] (St Petersburg:
Egida, 2013).
10 Interview with Z, Norden coordinator, St Petersburg, May 2013.
11“War on Trafficking Must Go On”, October 7, 2005. http://www.norden.org/
12“Gender Equality — a Key to Democracy”, in Cooperation for Gender
Equality, EU-Norway, no. 16 (2009). http://www.regjeringen.no/upload/
13Carita Peltonen, Norden och närområdena: kartläggning av jämställdhetsamarbetet. [The North and its surroundings: mapping the work for gender
equality.] (Copenhagen: The Nordic Council of Ministers, 1996), 10.
14 See Jennifer Suchland, “Is Postsocialism Transnational?” Signs 36:4, (2011)
15 The problems of women’s work during the rapid transformation of the
labor market is also discussed in a Swedish context: see Kvinnorna och
krisen: Leder regeringens investeringar till en jämställd framtid? [Women
and the crises: do government’s investments lead to the equal future?]
(Stockholm: Sveriges Kvinnolobby [Swedish Women’s Lobby], 2013).
Special section 1—2/20
illustration: ragni svensson
Cracks in the
“iron curtain”
The evolution of political contacts between Soviet Estonia
and the Estonian emigration in Sweden before perestroika
by Lars Fredrik Stöcker
Almost throughout the Cold War, opportunities for interacting with the
occupied home countries were severely limited for tens of thousands Baltic war refugees and their offspring in the West. However,
the evolution of political contacts between exile activists in Sweden
and the occupied homeland sheds light on the largely underresearched
phenomenon of anticommunist cooperation between capitalist and
communist societies and challenges the narrative of the impermeability
of the “Iron Curtain” between the Soviet Union and the West.
Key words: Cold War, exile–homeland relations, Soviet Union,
Estonian SSR, Sweden.
quarter of a century after the fall of the communist
regimes from East Berlin to Moscow, the political
map of “Yalta Europe” remains etched into the collective memories of Europeans, whether their home
country once was located in the communist or capitalist half of
the continent. The era of Europe’s political and military division
lives on in iconic images of heavily armed soldiers patrolling
barbed-wired checkpoints, which corroborate the narrative of a
virtually impermeable border between two rival blocs. Thus, the
topos of the “Iron Curtain” is a self-evident element of the language used in discussing Europe’s Cold War past, even among
scholars specializing in the field. As a rhetorical remnant of a
peer-reviewed essay
propaganda war that contributed to cementing the bipolar order
of postwar Europe, however, the term is misleading. Under the
impact of de-Stalinization, most communist governments in
Central and Eastern Europe had abandoned dogmatic isolationism as a cornerstone of foreign policy. Over time, crossing state
borders between East and West turned into an everyday affair.
At least after the onset of détente, which paved the way for even
greater East-West mobility, the number of tourists, businessmen,
artists, scientists, and exchange students traveling between the
blocs skyrocketed.
In recent years, historians have devoted considerable research
efforts towards gaining a deeper understanding of the ambiguity
of border regimes in Cold War Europe. Shifting the focus from
the grand narrative of Cold War diplomacy to non-state actors,
informal networks, and personal encounters across the Iron
Curtain has enriched the field with innovative, transnationally
framed approaches.1 Numerous studies on tourism and trade between communist and capitalist societies, smuggling and black
market activities, and technological cooperation and cultural exchange have provided a more nuanced picture of the history of
the divided Europe, revealing a vast undergrowth of contacts below the governmental level. So far, scholarly research has been
focused primarily on the satellite states, which indeed promoted
an at times astonishing degree of openness towards the West,
although the scope of cross-border contacts remained highly dependent on the overall international political climate. However,
even the comparatively rigid border regime of the Soviet Union
was affected by the dynamics of European détente, although the
degree of individual mobility and the intensity of contacts with
non-communist societies was decidedly lower.
Due to its cordon sanitaire of
more or less servile satellites, the
Soviet Union shared few land borders with capitalist states. Hence,
the Black and Baltic Sea basins
formed the most important contact
zones between the Soviet and the
non-Soviet world. While the Soviet
Union faced the NATO member
Turkey in the Black Sea Region,
Sweden’s and Finland’s postwar
neutrality considerably lowered the
level of ideological and military tensions around the Baltic rim.
The dynamics of East-West interaction triggered by this geopolitical constellation had a decisive impact on the Estonian SSR in
particular, the postwar history of which differs in some crucial
aspects from that of other Soviet republics.
Declaration of independence in Pärnu on February 23, 1918.
One of the first images of the Republic.
tries, the Baltic territories were seen as possible gateways for
hostile military forces and intelligence operations, but also as a
bridgehead to the West for oppositional circles inside the Soviet
Union. Thus, up to the late 1980s, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians were generally denied access to their coastlines, where
raked beaches and a chain of watchtowers reflected the status of
the Baltic shores as military exclusion zones. Yet, despite Moscow’s
restrictive policies vis-à-vis the Balts, the republican elites gradually succeeded in negotiating certain concessions with the Soviet
leadership. By the late 1950s, the
Baltic republics had managed to acquire a reputation as the main Soviet testing ground for economic and
cultural reforms, with the Estonians
leading the way as a kind of Soviet
avant-garde in many respects.
The liberal currents of the postStalinist era had a considerable
impact on the Soviet Estonian border regime. During the better part
of the two decades that followed
the first Soviet occupation in 1940, Estonians had been almost
completely insulated from foreign influences. The few sporadic
visitors from non-communist countries who had been permitted
to enter the Estonian SSR after Stalin’s death were carefully selected delegates of fraternal communist parties, trade unions, or
sports clubs. The vast majority came from neighboring Finland,
in exceptional cases even from neutral Sweden or non-European
countries.2 In 1960, the Estonian capital of Tallinn, an architectural gem among the Hanseatic port cities that dot the Baltic
coasts, opened up to Western tourists.3 With the establishment
of a direct ferry connection to Helsinki in the summer of 1965,
which was facilitated by the Finnish president Urho Kekkonen’s
“The dissidents’
ambition to involve
compatriots abroad
in their oppositional
activities opened up a
new chapter of exile–
homeland relations.”
The three Baltic republics were among the newly acquired
lands of the Soviet Empire. Populated by mostly non-Russian
inhabitants with never-entirely-suppressed national sentiments
and prewar traditions of close cultural ties to Western Europe,
they generated a constant level of suspicion in the Kremlin.
Moreover, due to their geographical proximity to capitalist coun-
peer-reviewed essay
Map illustrating the Soviet military blockade and
invasion of Estonia and Latvia in 1940.
The ferry Georg Ots (in service from 1980 onwards, 1993–2000 chartered to Tallink)
played a key role in the courier network between Soviet Estonia and Sweden.
excellent contacts in the Kremlin, foreign visitors were able to
avoid the time-consuming travel via Leningrad’s Inturist office.
Due to the convenient connection across the Gulf of Finland,
Western tourism to Estonia developed into a mass phenomenon
and the provincial city of Tallinn into Moscow’s preferred site for
advertising the motherland of communism as a prosperous and
modern state with a pronouncedly European cultural identity.4
The Estonian SSR indeed possessed the highest standard of
living among the Soviet republics, which triggered a massive and
steadily growing influx of Russian-speaking industrial workers
from other, less wealthy parts of the vast country. Nevertheless,
Estonia had a rather peripheral status within the Soviet Union:
it was to a large degree simply the place from which the inhabitants of nearby Leningrad and Moscow were supplied with
agricultural goods, dairy and meat. But taking into account the
considerable masses of incoming foreigners and the subsequent
spreading of Western fashion and taste in Tallinn, the Estonian
capital could still compete with the grand metropolises of the
Russian heartland as a major hub of Soviet interaction with the
capitalist world. It is this extraordinary exposure to Western
influences that makes the tiny Soviet republic an interesting case
study for historical research on nongovernmental contacts between Soviet citizens and the non-communist sphere.
It was first and foremost the reformation fervor of Party bureaucrats in Moscow and Tallinn that paved the way for Estonia’s
gradual opening up to the West. The dynamic unleashed by the
decision to liberalize the border regime, however, was triggered
mainly by external factors and rooted in specific geographical
and cultural conditions. There is already a quite substantial
literature on the significance of neutral Finland for Estonia during the decades of Soviet occupation. Due to the linguistic and
cultural kinship between Finns and Estonians and the ‘Finnish-
Soviet friendship’, the inhabitants of the Estonian SSR were able
to absorb a remarkable array of Western influences. As early as
1957, Finnish television could, according to Finnish reports, be
received in the coastal areas of northern Estonia. The Kremlin’s
decision to jam only broadcasts produced in one of the Soviet
Union’s official languages made it possible for several generations of Estonians to get acquainted with life and consumption
patterns in the West.5 The impact of this breach in the informational Iron Curtain cannot be underestimated, not at least as
it fostered a widespread familiarity with the Finnish language
among the population of Tallinn. These skills considerably
facilitated face-to-face communication with Finnish tourists,
by far the largest group of Western visitors, which opened up
numerous opportunities of de facto uncontrollable interaction
between Soviet and non-Soviet citizens.
A much less investigated factor that had an enormous impact on
how Soviet Estonia’s encounters with the outside world evolved
was the sizeable Estonian exile community in neighboring Sweden. The neutral country was the main political and cultural
center of the Estonian diaspora in Europe, hosting about 22,000
war refugees, who had escaped the westward advances of the
Red Army that foreboded the second Soviet occupation of Estonia in autumn 1944, and their offspring.6 Sweden’s Estonian
population adhered to an uncompromising anti-Soviet stance,
categorically refusing to acknowledge the incorporation of Estonia into the Soviet Union, which led to regular clashes with the
Swedish authorities’ rather compliant attitude towards Moscow
as far as the Baltic question was concerned. Nonetheless, the isolation of the Baltic territories from the outside world, which had
been implemented immediately after their reoccupation and
lasted until the post-Stalinist Thaw, had opened up a physical
and mental abyss between exile and homeland that mirrored the
Exile state of mind. To be outside your homeland, your identity left behind.
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Photo: sigurd roove
Estonian refugees on the Triina, 1944.
general alienation between East and West in postwar Europe.
While homeland Estonians for a long time lacked the possibility
of contacting relatives and friends in the West, the exile community maintained a dogmatic reluctance to communicate with the
occupied home country via Soviet authorities. Fear of infiltration
and a strong aversion to collaborators had given way to a strictly
isolationist stance that unconsciously imitated the traditional
“Soviet phobia”7 against all kinds of external influences. When
the Estonian SSR opened up the gates to a growing number of
Western visitors in the mid-1960s, the issue of homeland tourism
thus became one of the most heatedly debated controversies
among the exile community. For a vast majority of Estonians
both in Western Europe and overseas, applying for a visa at a
Soviet embassy or consulate severely undermined their political
struggle, which was based on the non-recognition of the geopolitical status quo. Everyone who still decided to visit the old
home country risked open condemnation and social exclusion
within the exile community well into the 1980s.8
A profound turn in East-West relations and a generational shift
among the Estonian communities in the West eventually contributed to the bridging of the abyss between exile and homeland.
The onset of détente altered the tone of international Cold War
diplomacy. “Cold warfare” was to be replaced with a peaceful
dialogue between capitalist and communist societies. This inspired a younger generation of Estonian exiles to engage in a fundamental critique of the voluntary isolationism of the old guard.9
The categorical refusal to communicate with the homeland, they
argued, merely reinforced Soviet Estonia’s isolation and weakened any genuine domestic opposition to Soviet rule. While, in
general, the large exile communities in North America remained
rather skeptical towards the idea of visiting the homeland as a
potentially effective counterweight to the ongoing Russification
and Sovietization of Estonia, this more pragmatic approach
was avidly discussed among Estonians in Sweden. Both the geographical proximity and the Swedish government’s active commitment to promoting multilevel cooperation with communist
Europe gradually fostered networking processes between exile
and homeland that would considerably influence the course of
Estonian history.
The willingness of a growing number of exile Estonians to
make use of the facilitated opportunities to visit the home country was welcomed by the Soviet leadership, which, since the onset of de-Stalinization, had been striving to establish a dialogue
with the Baltic communities in the West. Moscow’s underlying
goal was to neutralize the anti-Soviet lobbying campaigns and to
weaken the non-recognition dogma by encouraging, in particular, a younger generation of Baltic exiles to open up to contacts
with representatives of the new political order. According to the
calculations of the Kremlin, the recovery of Soviet Estonian society from the gloomy years of Stalinist terror and repression had
rendered it increasingly immune to anti-Soviet agitation. Indeed,
the 1960s marked the peak of an era of political conformism and
societal optimism in Estonia, which was partly the result of two
The work for an independent Estonia demanded loyalty. Commitment to the cause.
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decades of mass education in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism,
the “major vehicle for indoctrination and conformist mentality”.10
Due to the absence of any significant political opposition in the
Estonian SSR up to the late 1960s, the decision to loosen the
rigid travel and border restrictions thus turned out to have only
minor side effects. Initially, the challenges the Soviet Estonian
authorities had to cope with were limited to a greater availability of banned political and religious writings and an increase of
black-market activities in the capital.11 However, as Michael Cox
points out, the perceived political stability of the early Brezhnev
era eventually turned out to be a chimera.12 The limited national
autonomy that Moscow had granted the Balts was not sufficient
to compensate for the failures of the planned economy and the
migration policy, which, due to the
unhampered mass influx of workers
from other Soviet republics, triggered fears of Russification among
the autochthonous population.
A clear sign of rising discontent
among Estonian society and of the
initial breaches in the KGB’s surveillance system was the formation of
a nationalist dissident movement,
whose protagonists quickly learned
how to use the rapprochement
between the Soviet Union and the
neutral Nordic states for their own subversive purposes.
In 1972, after having operated underground for some years, a
small circle of dissidents decided to draft an open appeal, which
would be directed to a broader Western public. The memorandum was addressed to the General Assembly of the United
Nations, to whose predecessor organization Estonia once had belonged, and demanded a referendum on national sovereignty under the auspices of the UN, a
return to democracy and the liquidation
of the Soviet “colonial administrative
apparatus”.13 The dissidents, who were
well informed about the vigorous antiSoviet campaigns driven by exile activists
Ants Kippar.
in the West, sent the memorandum to
Stockholm, the European headquarters
of Estonian exile organizations. Although solid evidence is lacking on how the document crossed the border, the most plausible
explanation is that it was smuggled via Helsinki by a group of
Finnish Baptists involved in a network that illegally imported
religious literature into the Soviet Union.14
the dimension of face-to-face conversations during private visits.
The memorandum, which after initial hesitation was forwarded
to the United Nations and disseminated to a wider public in
Europe and overseas by Estonian exile activists, confirmed
the vague rumors about the existence of organized nationalist
dissent in the Estonian SSR. Moreover, its message revealed a
striking similarity between the radical visions of the dissidents
and the political agenda of the Estonian community in the West.
A shared language of oppositional thought had the potential
of uniting homeland and exile in a common political struggle,
which considerably changed the angle from which leading exile
activists in Stockholm viewed the opening up of Soviet Estonia
to the non-communist world. Consequently, the main focus
of their political activities, which traditionally had been information campaigns and the cooperation with anticommunist
forces in the West, began to shift
eastwards.15 This marked the beginning of a transnational alliance
that established a new anti-Soviet
frontline of the “Second Cold War”,
which, under the impact of the
increasing Western attention to human rights violations in communist
Europe as well as the 1979 invasion
in Afghanistan by Soviet troops,
put an end to the era of East-West
The network of Estonian exile
organizations with its main hubs in Sweden and North America
had been designed for the systematic collection and dissemination of uncensored information from behind the Iron Curtain,
not for active interference in Soviet domestic politics. In view of
the efficiency of the KGB and the risk of infiltration, which had
led to a disaster in the 1950s, when Western intelligence services
tried to smuggle Baltic spies across the Soviet border via Sweden,16 Estonian exiles consciously avoided engaging in clandestine operations taking place in Soviet Estonia itself. This attitude
remained unaltered even in the late 1970s, when Estonian dissidents started to act openly, counting on the protection offered
by Western public opinion and the Helsinki Watch Groups. The
arrest of the leadership of Estonia’s dissident underground and
the subsequent show trial in autumn 1975, a direct result of the
publication of the memorandum to the UN in the West,17 had
taught the political leaders of the Estonian exile community an
important lesson. Any ill-considered action contained the risk of
seriously endangering the dissidents’ personal safety.18
This rather passive stance was challenged by the appearance
of a new figure on the stage of exile politics. The unexpected
political comeback of the retired businessman Ants Kippar, who
had resigned from his activities in Stockholm’s Estonian organizations decades earlier after an alleged electoral fraud, led to
a major twist in exile—homeland relations. In 1977, Kippar had
gathered a small group of second-generation exile Estonians in
order to form an aid organization for imprisoned Estonian dissidents. One year later, the Relief Center for Estonian Prisoners
“The ferry across the
Gulf of Finland was
ideal for smuggling
shorter messages,
usually typed on
interlining cloth
and sewn into the
couriers’ clothes.”
The dissidents’ ambition to involve compatriots abroad in their
oppositional activities opened up a new chapter of exile—homeland relations. For the first time since the end of World War II,
communication between Estonians on both sides of the Iron
Curtain contained a political element that reached far beyond
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of Conscience was officially established. The organization aimed
at delivering humanitarian aid to convicted dissidents serving
their sentences in central Russian labor camps, as well as to
their families back in Estonia. Moreover, it aspired to become an
information center on ongoing human rights violations in the
Soviet Union.19 Soon, however, the Relief Center became directly
involved in clandestine operations inside the Soviet Union itself
as the first exile organization that sought and found contact with
the core of the Soviet Estonian dissident movement.
In the aftermath of the 1975 trial against the first generation
of Soviet Estonian dissidents, a new network of activists had
tried to mobilize the republican intelligentsia as well as representatives of Estonia’s religious and ethnic minorities in order
to establish a popular front against Soviet rule. Yet it turned
out that the fears of repression were
still strong enough to prevent an
overwhelming majority of the Soviet Estonian elites from engaging
in oppositional politics.20 From the
late 1970s onwards, the resurrected
Estonian dissident movement thus
gathered around a small circle of released political prisoners, who would
form the backbone of nationalist opposition for years to come. Together
with a number of younger men and
women, a new generation of oppositional activists, the former prisoners
of conscience focused on informing
an international public on systematic human rights violations in
Estonia and other parts of the Soviet Union. Ants Kippar’s Relief
Center quickly developed into an important hub for the dissemination of up-to-date information. Via Finnish couriers, who
maintained close links to Kippar in Stockholm, the Relief Center
had managed to establish functioning communication channels
with Estonian dissidents in Tallinn.21 Thus, the organization
could soon claim the status of the major Western partner of the
anti-Soviet opposition in the Estonian SSR, a statement reinforced by the fact that one of the Relief Center’s members was a
recently emigrated Estonian dissident himself.22
The close cooperation between the dissidents and the Relief
Center marked a first crucial step towards a convergence of
homeland and exile forces into coordinated opposition to the
Soviet occupation and hence against the geopolitical status quo
of postwar Europe. Although the clandestine network involved
merely a small number of activists on each side of the Iron Curtain, it proved to be highly effective. By the turn of the decade,
Kippar and his assistants had established a well-functioning courier system that facilitated a reasonably rapid flow of uncensored
information between Stockholm and Tallinn. Helsinki was the
crucial hub of this communication network, given that the intermediary activities were mainly carried out by Finnish tourists.23
The ferry across the Gulf of Finland was ideal for smuggling
shorter messages, usually typed on interlining cloth and sewn
into the couriers’ clothes,24 across the Soviet border. Longer
documents and underground publications, by contrast, posed a
greater logistical challenge. Microfilms turned out to be a convenient and easily concealable medium for smuggling appeals addressed to Western governments or international organizations
and samizdat writings, such as the underground chronicle Some
additions to the free flow of thoughts and news in Estonia, to Stockholm. The main channel for smuggling microfilms was provided
by the commitment of a number of Swedish and American correspondents in Moscow, who agreed to organize the transfer to
the Relief Center, from which the information reached the Western media.25 Due to the freedom of movement inside the Soviet
Union, the dissidents could frequently travel to Moscow to meet
up with the journalists, hand over the microfilms, and share the
latest news about developments in Estonia.26
Ants Kippar’s devotion to the
cause of the Soviet Estonian dissidents significantly facilitated the
establishment of a secret, but reliable
communication system between
Soviet Estonia and the West. Its
existence was a crucial advantage
for the protagonists of anti-Soviet
opposition, who operated in difficult
conditions. Printing equipment was
lacking and it was, as everywhere
else in the Soviet Union, hard to access unregistered and, thus, untraceable typewriters, which made any
large-scale reproduction of samizdat
writings practically impossible. Yet, due to Kippar’s excellent
contacts among the staff of Western broadcasting stations such
as Radio Free Europe or the Voice of America, the dissemination of uncensored information even within Estonia itself was
considerably accelerated via its transmission back to the Soviet
Union.27 The Relief Center thus played a crucial role for channeling news and uncensored information across the Iron Curtain,
which turned Kippar himself into a well-informed, much-cited
source for media reports on the current situation in the Baltics. It
is largely due to this symbiosis of people and groups operating in
exile and the homeland that Estonian experiences were noticed
in the West and integrated into the post-Helsinki discourses on
human rights in the early 1980s.28
“The de facto
in its entirety
dialogue that
developed between
exile and homeland
replicated the
ideological battles
of the Cold War era.”
The overall reactions among the Estonian exile community
to Kippar’s activities were, nevertheless, mixed. While the dissidents highly appreciated his pragmatic and effective support,29
direct interference in Soviet affairs remained a controversial
issue, especially in view of the obvious risk of jeopardizing the
well-being of the dissidents involved. Indeed, the KGB turned
out to be utterly well informed about the secret communication channels, due both to successful infiltration and to the
blackmailing of couriers.30 In addition, the systematic interception of phone calls between Kippar and his contacts in Estonia
had delivered useful information.31 General concerns about the
strategy of the Relief Center proved to be justified when the KGB
To be a dissident produces an identity. You know whom to oppose.
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Baltic Institute’s first two conferences, at Hässelby Castle, 1971, and in Stockholm in 1973.
launched a second wave of arrests in Estonia. During the political
trials of 1981 and 1983, which essentially ended the era of Soviet
Estonian dissent, communication with Kippar figured among the
primary charges brought against the accused activists.32
The critics of Kippar’s political commitment touched upon
a whole array of issues. One of them was the narrow focus on a
marginal group of radical dissidents, which, according to Arvo
Horm, a prominent exile politician from Sweden, was highly
problematic. “The national resistance of the Estonian nation
in the homeland,” he argued, “is much broader, deeper, more
open, and considerably more diverse than Kippar currently is
presenting it to the Estonians abroad.”33 The Relief Center was
accused of having monopolized and unnecessarily limited the
political dialogue between the exile community and Soviet Estonian society. It was, in Horm’s opinion, the obvious risk of communicating with Kippar and his Relief Center that had induced
the Soviet Estonian intelligentsia, which was generally unwilling
to cooperate with dissidents, to refrain from establishing durable contacts with the Estonian communities in the West.34
By the beginning of the 1980s, however, a group of less radical exile activists from Sweden was already about to establish a
parallel channel of communication with the home country. In
contrast to Kippar’s activities, which relied upon conspiracy and
clandestine networks, their vision of a dialogue between exile
and homeland was inspired by the spirit of European détente.
The overarching goal was to bridge the gap to the Soviet Estonian
intelligentsia via the official channels of Swedish-Soviet cultural diplomacy. Upon the Kremlin’s approval, Swedish and Soviet Baltic
authorities had signed bilateral agreements on fostering cultural
exchange.35 The major driving force behind their implementation
were Baltic scholars and intellectuals in Sweden, who, covered by
the academic and cultural institutions they worked for, succeeded
in initiating a broad range of Swedish-Baltic projects. By transferring the organizational responsibility for the bilateral cultural cooperation to Swedish authorities and institutions, they managed
to evade the propagandistic element which was characteristic of
events hosted by the Soviet embassy.36 Academic conferences,
guest lectures, and cultural and artistic events offered a platform
on which the Soviet Estonian intelligentsia was given the possibil-
ity of engaging in a broader dialogue with their compatriots in
neutral Sweden. The numerous informal encounters that resulted
from the cultural dialogue across the Baltic Sea were at least as
significant for the gradual convergence of oppositional thought on
both sides of the Iron Curtain as the transnational networks of the
Soviet Estonian dissidents.
The Baltic Institute, an independent institution founded in
1970, and the Center for Baltic Studies, established ten years
later by Baltic exiles at Stockholm University, were the main
flagships of the official cooperation between representatives of
Baltic cultural and academic life both in exile and at home. Established in a joint effort by Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians
in Sweden, the Baltic Institute was primarily supposed to foster
an “objective” discourse on Baltic issues, based on thorough
scholarly research. A politically more dogmatic faction among
the Baltic exile communities had initially insisted on transforming the institution into another anti-Soviet battle organization
and categorically rejected any cooperation with scholars from
the occupied homelands.37 However, the moderate forces eventually succeeded in enforcing their vision of the Baltic Institute
as a non-political institution whose primary official task it was to
foster the rapprochement between the blocs in the spirit of the
Helsinki Final Act. The election of a Swedish scholar as head of
the Baltic Institute reaffirmed the new course, which kept a safe
distance from the anti-Soviet credo of the Baltic exile community. It could thus officially figure as a Swedish institution, which
considerably facilitated cooperation with the authorities in the
Soviet Baltic republics.38
A major recurring event that manifested the Soviet leadership’s new approach to East-West cooperation, the biannual
international conference on Baltic Studies, had originally been
a brainchild of the Baltic Institute, but was hosted by the Center
for Baltic Studies from 1981 onwards. The sixth conference, held
that year at Hässelby Castle outside Stockholm, was the first to
welcome scholars from the Soviet Baltic republics among its
participants.39 As the organizers consciously avoided sensitive
topics such as Baltic statehood in the interwar era, the conferences could develop into a forum where scholars from institu-
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August 23, 1989, approximately two million people joined hands, forming a human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius, spanning 600
kilometers, or 430 miles.
tions such as the Soviet Estonian Academy of Science or Tartu
University could establish personal contacts with colleagues and
compatriots in the West. The lively exchange of ideas and opinions was facilitated by the possibility of inviting guest researchers from the Baltic republics to Sweden for a period up to several
months, which was organized and coordinated by Stockholm
University, acting in the name of the Center for Baltic Studies.40
Nevertheless, there was still a considerable amount of distrust
among Estonian exiles, especially in North America, where the
geographical distance amplified the general skepticism against
any form of official cooperation with Soviet authorities. Hence,
the participation of Soviet Estonian scholars at the Baltic conferences in Stockholm was an issue that provoked heated discussions, although most of the visiting scholars did not even belong
to the Estonian Communist Party.41 Only in the mid-1980s, the
atmosphere eventually changed in favor of broader academic
contacts, as one of the visiting scholars reported back to the Soviet Estonian authorities.42
The pointedly non-political nature of the cultural and scholarly
exchange notwithstanding, there was a hidden political agenda
behind the ambition of Baltic scholars in Sweden to establish
long-lasting channels of communication across the Baltic Sea.
The strategy resembled the concept of ‘change through rapprochement’, the motor of East-West détente from the late 1960s
onwards. “We know that a liberation by American tanks etc. is
utopian,” as representatives of the Baltic Institute wrote in 1979.
“[T]he future resurrection of national sovereignty has to be
achieved via the corruption of the communist regimes (including Moscow) and a liberation from within (…).” A broader range
of contacts between the Soviet Baltic republics and the West was
supposed to accelerate this process.43 That was the subversive aspect of this new form of exile—homeland communication, which
at an early stage caused Soviet propaganda to accuse the Baltic
organizers in Sweden of using cultural and scholarly dialogue as
a “sophisticated smoke screen” for covering up their anti-Soviet
agenda.44 By the early 1980s, however, interaction between
exile and homeland had been intense enough to reveal that the
ideological war was lost in the Estonian SSR, at least for the Soviet leadership.45 There was no need to disseminate anti-Soviet
propaganda among the visiting scholars and artists who came to
Sweden in the framework of the official cultural and academic
exchange, despite their apparent political conformism. The
cooperation between Estonian scholars and intellectuals across
the Iron Curtain was, as the prominent exile publicist Andres
Küng put it, rather supposed to provide an intellectual ‘breathing space’ for the Soviet Estonian intelligentsia. In the eyes of
a growing number of Estonian exiles in Sweden, this benefit
justified the cooperation with Soviet Estonian authorities as an
“inevitable communication channel”.46
The credit for having turned Sweden into the country with
most official links to Soviet Estonia after Finland in the preperestroika era belongs to a large degree to the activists behind
the Baltic Institute and the Center for Baltic Studies.47 Taking into
account the additional significance of the Swedish connection
for the underground opposition in Soviet Estonia, it becomes
clear that the interaction between Estonian exiles in Sweden and
their homeland had a dual political profile. Both the anti-Soviet
dissident movement and leading representatives of Estonia’s
intellectual elite, who despite their reluctance to participate
in oppositional manifestations still functioned as a traditional
bearer of Estonian nationalism, were in various ways connected
to the anti-Soviet exile community. Only with the emergence
of a mass-based nationalist movement in the second half of
the 1980s did the two isolated strands of active and passive opposition against Russification and Sovietization eventually join
forces. This also led to the convergence of the various channels
between Soviet Estonia and the West into a much broader web
of exile—homeland cooperation, which had a decisive impact on
the mobilization of an internationally well-interconnected secessionist movement.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika changed the Soviet system
beyond recognition, introducing “elements of capitalism, the
rapprochement with the West and the re-legitimation of national
Contacts undercover are always intimate. Mutual trust is a prerequisite.
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identity”.48 The Baltic peoples greeted the ongoing reformation
and liberalization of the system with particular enthusiasm,
which gradually spread to the Party nomenklatura and turned
out to be impossible to stifle when a conservative turn in Moscow
aimed at saving the unity of the disintegrating Soviet Empire. In
view of the unexpected renaissance of an outspokenly nationalist rhetoric that evolved under the impact of glasnost in Soviet
Estonia, relations between the homeland society and the Estonian communities in the West fundamentally changed. The rapprochement between exile and homeland in the pre-perestroika
years had been a complicated process. The various strategies of
bridging the mental gap between Estonians on both sides of the
Iron Curtain had never been uncontested among the Estonian
exiles, neither the Relief Center’s attempts to support anti-Soviet
subversion nor the exile intelligentsia’s vision of establishing a
dialogue with Soviet Estonian elites. Yet, with the onset of the
Estonian emancipation from the imperial center in Moscow, the
remarkable mobilization of the exile community bore witness to
the successful “reunification of language”49 that the years of rapprochement nevertheless had accomplished.
Travelling to the West was considerably facilitated for Soviet
citizens from the late 1980s onwards and the KGB gradually lost
control over the rapidly developing, multi-layered network of
contacts between Soviet Estonia and the outside world. Soon,
“émigré influences on Soviet internal developments boomed”
and fostered lively political, economic, scholarly, and cultural
exchange between the Estonian SSR and Estonians in the West.50
The decisive turning point was the reactivation of groups with a distinct pro-independence profile, which stemmed from
the dissident movement. In 1987, a group
of former political prisoners, among
them those who in the early 1980s had
closely cooperated with the Relief Center in Stockholm, started the so-called
Estonian Group on the Publication of
the Molotov-Ribbentrop-Pact, on whose
secret protocol the Soviet occupation of
the Baltic states in 1940 had been based.
This was echoed by the establishment of
a local offshoot in Stockholm by a circle
of Estonian exiles, which functioned as the organization’s official representation in the West.51 Activists on both sides of the
Iron Curtain were now able to coordinate public manifestations,
which illustrated the efficiency of exile—homeland communication and echoed the networking activities between Kippar and
the dissident movement. The Relief Center was still operating
under the leadership of Jaak Jüriado, who had taken over after
the death of Ants Kippar in early 1987. In view of the formation of
a mass-based nationalist movement in Estonia, the organization
redirected its activities towards supplying the most radical faction, which stemmed from the dissident movement, with technical equipment. With the financial support of US organizations,
the exile community in North America, and Finnish sponsors,
the Relief Centre coordinated the still officially illegal transport
of cameras, tape recorders, neck-microphones, and slide films
across the Gulf of Finland in order to enable its allies “to collect and give truthful information to the Estonian people”.52 As
early as 1988, the first computers reached the leadership of the
independence movement together with maintenance parts and
software, again via smuggling channels in order to evade an official registration of the equipment by the KGB and the resulting
undesired consequences in case of a restorative political turn.
The participating Estonian activists in Stockholm even worked
out a strategy of sending the technical equipment out to Helsinki
for maintenance, after which it was channeled back to Estonia.53
The Soviet Estonian intelligentsia, which early on had been
“Gorbachev’s constituency of support” for the implementation
of political reforms,54 initially supported a less radical stance and
opted for close cooperation with the Estonian Communist Party.
However, Estonia’s scholarly and cultural elites soon developed
an increasingly nationalist agenda, which also affected the Party
nomenklatura and increasingly marginalized the faction of
loyal communists. Eventually, the majority of Party bureaucrats
joined the Estonian Popular Front. Many of the leading protagonists of the Popular Front, which supported quickly expanding
visions of national autonomy for Soviet Estonia, belonged to the
humanistic intelligentsia, which since the early 1980s had maintained close contacts with the exile community in
Sweden. The close communication continued in the late 1980s
and extended to the Estonian communities in North America,
which is reflected in the frequent trips of Popular Front leaders to Sweden, the US and Canada
from 1988 onwards. Up to Estonia’s
secession from the Soviet Union in
August 1991, the originally moderate
faction of the nationalist movement
gradually adopted the “symbols and
slogans” of the political exiles. This
contributed to bridging the gap between opposition leaders with roots
in the Communist Party and the
masses of the anti-Soviet exile community in the West.55
The genesis of the dialogue between the exile communities and
the homeland society, which started from individual visits in
the late 1960s and reached a much broader scale during the last
decade of Soviet rule in Estonia, illustrates the shifting and, at
times, ambiguous nature of the Iron Curtain. Up to the demise of
the Soviet Union, the elaborate system of fortifying and guarding
the physical borders remained intact — between 1947 and 1989,
there were only fifteen registered cases of successful escape
from Soviet Estonia across the Baltic Sea.56 Yet, with the onset
of détente, the much more intricate and multileveled pattern of
East-West communication became increasingly difficult to monitor, even for a state in which the secret police had driven the
surveillance of the population and foreign visitors to perfection.
As many earlier studies on unofficial interaction between the
“Up to the demise of
the Soviet Union,
the elaborated
system of
fortifying and
guarding the
physical borders
remained intact.”
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blocs have confirmed, uncensored information and ideas travelled across the most fortified state borders, which eventually
had a long-lasting impact even on rather closed societies such as
Soviet Estonia. In this context, the existence of well-integrated
and interconnected Estonian communities in the West cannot be
overestimated as a decisive trigger for intensified communication with the non-Soviet orbit. The compatriots abroad served
as a source of inspiration and moral support for nonconformist circles in the Estonian SSR, but also as a mouthpiece for the
silenced political opposition in the occupied homeland. The
dialogue that developed between exile and homeland, de facto
uncontrollable in its entirety, replicated the ideological battles of
the Cold War era, elevating “cold warfare” and political alliances
to a level that still counts among the rather opaque aspects of
European Cold War history.
While historiography has come a long way in critically reassessing the topos of the Iron Curtain and juxtaposing it with an
astonishing variety of East-West contacts on different levels, Cold
War historians still meet fundamental challenges when it comes
to scrutinizing the political dimension of informal interaction
between East and West, especially as far as reliable sources are
concerned. In the case of the Estonian SSR, the loss of most of
the KGB’s archives, which disappeared shortly before Estonia
claimed independence, certainly hampers progress in the field.
Yet, scattered copies of KGB files can be found in the archival
collections of other Soviet Estonian state authorities and an impressive compilation has been published by the former dissident
Arvo Pesti, shedding an interesting light on the dissident contacts to Stockholm in the early 1980s. A series of semi-structured,
in-depth face-to-face interviews conducted with protagonists of
the Estonian dissident movement and former exile activists has
contributed insights that put this fragmented evidence into perspective. Juxtaposing the information obtained from the interviews with accessible sources and comparing the various stories
has made it possible to get a quite clear picture of how politically
motivated contacts between exile and homeland developed
after the onset of détente. The vast archival documentation of
political exile organizations as well as individual activists among
the Estonian community in Sweden, which nowadays is stored in
the State Archives of Estonia, has in this context turned out to be
a veritable treasure chest. Throughout the Cold War, exile activists from behind the Iron Curtain acted as meticulous archivists,
storing all accessible information about the ongoing development in their homelands and investing considerable time in
analyzing and interpreting the communication across the bloc
border. These still largely unexplored archives provide a good
empirical basis for studies not only on the exile communities
themselves, but also on East-West contacts in a much broader
At the end of the day, it is of course hard to measure the his-
torical relevance of the informal interaction between Soviet
Estonian society and the exile community, and especially its significance for the evolution of oppositional thought and action in
the Estonian SSR. However, both the dissident networks and the
rapprochement between the exile and homeland intelligentsia
indicate that every accessible channel was used to maintain an
increasingly uncontrollable exchange of information and ideas
between East and West, which was facilitated by the increasing willingness of the regime to encourage nongovernmental
contacts to foreign nationals. In the long run, the opportunities
of omitting the boundaries of censorship and rigid state control
contributed to perforating the Iron Curtain and undermining the
stability of Soviet rule, as did the innumerable encounters with
Western tourists and the possibility of receiving Finnish television broadcasts in Estonia. Essentially, all these various networking processes confirm the hypothesis of Jussi Hanhimäki, who
stated that “détente was instrumental in setting in motion the
many processes that ultimately caused the collapse of the international system that it was supposed to have stabilized”.57 ≈
Lars Fredrik Stöcker, PhD in History and Civilization, holds a postdoctoral position at Uppsala Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.
ari Autio-Sarasmo and Katalin Miklóssy, “Introduction: The Cold War
from a new perspective”, in Reassessing Cold War Europe, ed. Sari AutioSarasmo and Katalin Miklóssy (London: Routledge, 2011), 2.
Report of the 2nd Department of the Estonian KGB on the agentoperational work carried out in 1958, in Aruanne Riikliku Julgeoleku
Komitee 2. ja 4. osakonna tööst 1958. aastal [Report on the work of the 2nd
and 4th Departments of the KGB in 1958], ed. Jüri Ojamaa and Jaak Hion
(Tallinn: Rahvusarhiiv, 2005), 69.
p to the late 1980s, Western tourists were not allowed to stay outside
Tallinn and its immediate outskirts. Special permits for one-day trips to
Tartu, the seat of the centuries-old university, or the seaside resort Pärnu,
which had been highly popular among Nordic visitors before the war,
were granted in exceptional cases.
nne E. Gorsuch, All This Is Your World: Soviet Tourism at Home and
Abroad after Stalin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 61.
imo Mikkonen, “Moskaus Medienpolitik im sowjetischen Baltikum”
[Moscow’s media politics in the Soviet Baltics], Forschungen zur
Baltischen Geschichte 5 (2010): 191, 199.
nders Berge, Flyktingpolitik i stormakts skugga: Sverige och de sovjetryska
flyktingarna under andra världskriget [Refugee politics in the shadow of a
superpower: Sweden and the Soviet Russian refugees during World War II]
(Uppsala: Centre for Multiethnic Research, Uppsala University, 1992), 33.
igi Rahi-Tamm, “Küüditamised Eestis” [Deportations in Estonia], in
Kõige taga oli hirm: Kuidas Eesti oma ajaloost ilma jäi [Fear was behind
everything: How Estonia lost its history], ed. Sofi Oksanen and Imbi Paju
(Tallinn: Eesti Päevalehe AS, 2010), 66.
eike Wulf, “Locating Estonia: Perspectives from exile and homeland,” in
Warlands: Population Resettlements and State Reconstruction in the SovietEast European Borderlands, ed. Peter Gatrell and Nick Baron (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 246.
ndated report of the Estonian National Council in Stockholm on
Estonian organizations in the West, State Archives of Estonia (ERA),
ladislav M. Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War
from Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
2007), 177.
peer-reviewed essay
f. Lars Fredrik Stöcker, “Nylon Stockings and Samizdat: The ‘White Ship’
Between Helsinki and Tallinn in the Light of its Unintended Economic
and Political Consequences,” Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 3
(2014): 385—388, 391.
ichael Cox, “Another transatlantic split? American and European
narratives and the end of the Cold War,” Cold War History 1 (2007): 135.
emorandum of the Estonian National Front and the Estonian
Democratic Movement to the General Assembly of the United Nations,
in Dissidentlik liikumine Eestis aastatel 1972—1987: Dokumentide kogumik
[The dissident movement in Estonia from 1972 to 1987: A collection of
documents], ed. Arvo Pesti (Tallinn: Riigiarhiiv, 2009), 47—48.
ait Raun, “Eesti Demokraatlik Liikumine ja Eesti Rahvusrinne:
Dokumenteeritud tagasivaade I” [The Estonian Democratic Movement
and the Estonian National Front: A documented review I], Akadeemia 6
(2002): 1155.
rochure on the history of the Estonian National Council in Stockholm
titled Eesti Rahvusnõukogu neli aastakümmet [Four decades of the
Estonian National Council], 1987, ERA 5008.1.1.101.
f. Indrek Jürjo, Pagulus ja Nõukogude Eesti: Vaateid KGB, EKP ja VEKSA
arhiividokumentide põhjal [The Exile and Soviet Estonia: Hypotheses on
the Basis of Archival Documents of the KGB, EKP and VEKSA] (Tallinn:
Umara 1996), 91—102, 116—119.
Tunne Kelam, conducted by the author in Viimsi, September 17, 2011.
erdict of the Supreme Court of the Estonian SSR, April 19, 1984, in Pesti,
Dissidentlik liikumine, 529—530.
erdict of the Supreme Court of the Estonian SSR, December 16, 1983,
Pesti, Dissidentlik liikumine, 464.
etter from Arvo Horm to Juhan Simonson, October 3, 1984, ERA
34 L
etter from Arvo Horm to Avo and Viivi Piirisild, October 3, 1984, ERA
leksander Loit, “Kulturförbindelser mellan Sverige och Estland efter
andra världskriget” [Cultural relations between Sweden and Estonia after
World War II], in Estländare i Sverige: Historia, språk, kultur [Estonians
in Sweden. History, language, culture], ed. Raimo Raag and Harald
Runblom (Uppsala: Centre for Multiethnic Research, Uppsala University,
1988), 83, 85.
36 L
etter from representatives of the Baltic Committee in Stockholm to
Birger Hagård, February 13, 1979, ERA 5010.1.92.250.
I nterview conducted by the author with Aleksander Loit, co-founder of
the Baltic Institute and the Center for Baltic Studies, Uppsala, December
14, 2011.
38 Jürjo, Pagulus, 263.
erdict of the Supreme Court of the Estonian SSR, October 31, 1975, in
Pesti, Dissidentlik liikumine, 186.
39 Loit, “Kulturförbindelser,” 77.
ress release of the Estonian National Council in Stockholm, December
10, 1977, ERA 1608.2.935.86.
eport on the activities of the Relief Center for Estonian Prisoners of
Conscience in 1978, March 31, 1979, State Archives of Estonia (ERAF),
20 V
iktor Niitsoo, “Avalik vastupanuliikumine Eestis aastail 1977—1984 I”
[Open resistance in Estonia, 1977—1984 I], Akadeemia 9 (1992): 1928—1929.
40 Ibid., 82.
Interview with Aleksander Loit.
42 R
eport of a scholar employed at Tartu University on his recent visit
to Sweden for the Society for the Development of Cultural Ties with
Estonians Abroad, June 6, 1984, in Jürjo, Pagulus, 342.
43 L
etter from representatives of the Baltic Committee to Birger Hagård,
ERA 5010.1.92.251.
44 Ibid., ERA 5010.1.92.250.
I nterview conducted by the author, with former dissident Heiki Ahonen,
Tallinn, September 21, 2011.
45 B
ernard Kangro, Estland i Sverige [Estonia in Sweden] (Lund: Eesti
Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1976), 77.
inutes of an assembly of the Relief Center, May 19, 1979, ERAF
46 Jürjo, Pagulus, 237, 270.
I nternal reports of the Estonian KGB, December 21, 1983, and January 11,
1985, in Pesti, Dissidentlik liikumine, 541, 554.
24 I nterview conducted by the author with former dissident Eve Pärnaste,
Tallinn, September 20, 2011.
I nformation note of the Estonian KGB, September 12, 1983, in Pesti,
Dissidentlik liikumine, 390; interview with Heiki Ahonen.
26 P
rotocol of the interrogation of Urmas Nagel by the KGB in Kaliningrad,
April 7, 1983, in Pesti, Dissidentlik liikumine, 388—391.
rom the 1970s onwards, tamizdat, the publication of dissident writings
abroad, formed a major strategy of oppositional circles in the Soviet
Union. The smuggling of documents and underground journals to
the West provided the possibility of transmitting their content back
across the “Iron Curtain” via Western radio broadcasts. Despite of the
jamming, anticommunist radio stations in the West still offered the most
efficient way of quickly disseminating information in the Soviet Union.
Joseph Benatov, “Demystifying the Logic of Samizdat: Philip Roth’s Antispectacular Literary Politics,” Poetics Today 1 (2009): 111.
Pesti, Dissidentlik liikumine, 35.
29 Q
uestioned about the role of Kippar, Lagle Parek stated that “the
quick dissemination of news was very important and he understood
that rightly. In general, he understood many things well.” Interview
conducted by the author with the former dissident Lagle Parek, Tallinn,
September 19, 2011.
30 I nterviews with Lagle Parek, Heiki Ahonen and the former dissident
47 Loit, “Kulturförbindelser,” 66.
48 R
ichard C. M. Mole, The Baltic States: From the Soviet Union to the
European Union (London/New York: Routledge, 2012), 68.
49 R
alf Dahrendorf, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe (New York: Times
Books, 2005 [1990]), 14.
50 A
lexander J. Motyl, Sovietology, Rationality, Nationality. Coming to Grips
with Nationalism in the USSR (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990),
anuscript of a speech held by a representative of the Estonian Group
on Publication of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in Stockholm, 1987, ERA
eport of Jaak Jüriado for the National Endowment for Democracy in
Washington, D.C., June 28, 1987, ERAF 9608.1.7.31.
reliminary report of Tiit Madisson and Jaak Jüriado for the National
Endowment for Democracy, October 30, 1989, ERAF 9608.1.7.33.
54 G
raham Smith, “The Resurgence of Nationalism,” in The Baltic States. The
National Self-Determination of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, ed. Graham
Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 130.
Motyl, Sovietology, 142—143.
56 J aak Pihlau, “Merepõgenemised okupeeritud Eestist” [Escapes across the
sea from occupied Estonia], Tuna 2 (2001): 68.
J ussi Hanhimäki, “Conservative goals, revolutionary outcomes: The
paradox of détente,” Cold War History 4 (2008): 503.
on solidarity
guest editor Ludger Hagedorn
olidarity is not an easy concept
to deal with. It is widely used
in intellectual debates and everyday discussions of political
issues, but it appears to have manifold
meanings, carrying a number of divergent
claims and sedimented traditions. Historically, the concept hovers somewhere
between its Roman origins, its Christian
adaptation, and its heyday in the leftist
movements of political and social emancipation. Although the proclamation of
solidarity throughout the 19th and 20th
centuries became inseparably linked with
the international workers’ movement and
socialist ideals, it is significant that the
very same word obtained almost emblematic meaning as an anti-communist slogan
in the Polish Solidarność movement of the
The French sociologist Émile Durkheim
famously differentiated between two kinds
of solidarity: a solidarity based on kinship
and similarity, which he called mechanical (to be found primarily in less developed, rural societies with a high degree
of homogeneity), and the more refined
concept of an organic solidarity, based on
mutual interdependence and the insight
that somebody else’s work is constitutive
for one’s own well-being (characteristic
of more developed societies practicing
division of labor).1 Yet the decisive question is whether solidarity should not be
described altogether differently, namely
as an ethical commitment that precisely
goes beyond the confines of kinship and
economy. Every “mechanical” or “organic” understanding of solidarity would
then be deficient, because it omits the
most characteristic trait of solidarity as an
act of transcending. If solidarity is meant
to designate a moral attitude, it will necessarily have to go beyond the confines of its
naturalized reduction to the mechanical
or organic bonds of similarity, kinship, and
economic interdependence.2
In Roman law the obligatio in solidum
denoted a common liability of a group
of people: Each person was individually
responsible for the liability of the group;
i.e. everybody was liable in solidum (= for
the whole). This understanding of solidarity as a juridical obligation can still be felt
today in many usages of the word. A new
tax levied in Germany after reunification,
aimed at restructuring the former East
Germany, was called Solidaritätszulage
(solidarity surtax).3 People are forced to
pay, but it leaves no space for free individual commitment. The act of solidarity, in
this case, is proclaimed and demanded by
state law, degrading the word “solidarity”
to a euphemism for enforced taxation. By
contrast, an example of solidarity as an
act of free support and sympathy may be
seen in the case of the Swedish miners’
strike in Norrbotten in 1969, when several
artists donated their works in support of
the strike fund.4 It was a gift in the original
sense, given to the striking miners as a
means of support, whereby the symbolic
meaning of this gesture was probably
more important than its monetary value.
Our colloquial notion of solidarity still
tends to oscillate between these two
extremes: between a juridical obligation
and a free gesture of moral commitment
and support for somebody or for the
“good cause” — the meanings are rarely
found in their purest form, uninfluenced
by each other, but it is undoubtedly the
second usage (the free commitment) that
we would call an act of solidarity in the
primary sense.
It is also a difficult task to determine
philosophically what comprises the core
or the essence of solidarity. Leonard
Neuger’s reflections (published in this
supplement) skillfully discern two divergent types of solidarity: Solidarity against
is exclusive; it demarcates the in-group —
“we” as opposed to “them” or “the others”. “Solidarity against” creates identity
and stability (solidity), yet it also presupposes the solid demarcation lines of who
is “in” and who is “out”. In this sense,
it is a re-affirmative and self-affirmative
action, corroborating the established
order. Solidarity for, in contrast, is a risky
and dangerous undertaking; it cannot
build on any pre-established ground. It
operates on a “groundless ground”, trying to be open for that which is different
and goes beyond the current order. It is,
in very concrete terms, an openness towards those who are neglected, deprived
or marginalized. Showing this kind of solidarity makes the individual vulnerable
and dependent on others. One becomes
dependent on trust and mutual responsibility. Yet as Neuger says, it also entails
something “explosive”; it is a spark that
can easily ignite the whole building.
Neuger’s account of the historical de-
Loss of grounds as common ground
Between 2011 and 2014, a group of five researchers developed an investigation about
“Loss of grounds as common ground – an
interdisciplinary investigation of the common ground beyond liberal and communitarian claims”.
The researchers involved: Marcia Sá
Cavalcante Schuback (research leader),
Irina Sandomirskaja, Ludger Hagedorn,
Tora Lane and the doctoral student Gustav
Several activities took place, mainly at
Södertörn University, but also at the University of Strasbourg and in Vienna at the IWM.
Conferences and seminars as well as a lecture
series were organized in the course of the
project. Three of the project researchers
received prestigious awards. Numerous books
were published in the project. The researchers wrote a large number of articles and the
doctoral student Gustav Strandberg is about
to finish his doctoral thesis.
on solidarity
velopment of the Polish trade union Solidarity is an outstanding example of this:
Starting from very inconspicuous and
minor events, it grew into a solid movement of 10 million people. It is not always
clear when and how and why the initial
ignition takes place: “One begins by acting out of self-interest, and suddenly this
horizon is transcended.” Solidarity is not
calculable — it has to do with the abyss of
responsibility and trust that will always
remain a risky undertaking. But neither
is solidarity idyllic or innocent. At some
point solidarity for can turn into solidarity against, easily evoking all the evils
of nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny,
homophobia, etc. Here lies the valuable
insight in Ewa Majewska’s contribution
to this issue. Her article examines the
historical development of Solidarność in
relation to feminist issues. Without condemning the movement or ignoring the
liberating effects of Solidarność, Majewska nevertheless directs our attention to
the flaws in these events that grew to gain
global historical significance. Solidarność
was indeed carried by a wave of solidarity
for, but this should not obstruct our perception that such a movement is not pure
and might also entail aspects of solidarity
against. Solidarity is not immune, and
efforts to idealize it are probably the best
indicator that the maxims of solidarity
against are beginning to infect it. Neuger
perfectly sums up this ambivalence in his
remarkable final sentences: “In its explosive phase, solidarity opens a door, takes
the risk. But solidarity also contains other
foundations, leading to a closed door.”
Jean-Luc Nancy’s article, bearing the
straightforward title Fraternity, examines
a similar set of issues. Brotherhood or fraternity is not only a historical precursor
to the modern political concept of solidarity; it shares the same characteristics
in building a community or “togetherness” among people.
Fraternity appeals to solidarity among equals,
among “us” who are
brothers. Liberté,
Egalité, Fraternité,
the tripartite slogan of the revolution of 1789 and
afterwards, has taken on almost symbolic
status in delivering keywords for modern
politics. But whereas liberty and equality
express civil rights, the role of fraternity
is less clear. Is it a duty, a Utopian ideal, a
sentimental and deceptive illusion? It is
certainly by no means an unproblematic
and innocent concept, since its rhetorical
power of inclusion is gained by the tacit
exclusion of those who are not among the
brothers. Jacques Derrida in particular
has expressed this critique of the idea
of fraternity. Originating as an explicit
answer to Jean-Luc Nancy, the reciprocal
dispute between the two of them finally
became what Derrida called “a fraternal
squabble over the issue of fraternity”.5
The article published here constitutes a
kind of belated epilogue to this debate.
Nancy returns to Derrida’s mistrust of
a term that is “simultaneously familial,
masculine, sentimental and Christiansounding”. From the beginning, Nancy
makes it clear that his idea of brotherhood is certainly not to be understood in
the biological sense. According to him,
“being siblings” is a “social model”; it is
“an association without substantial (ontological, original) necessity”, designating a
model of social reality that has more to do
with “having to adjust to living together”
rather than with “being together”. This
attempt to play the “symbolic register”
of fraternity (instead of the biological,
substantial, ontological) was however
already explicitly addressed in Derrida’s
earlier critical work. In Rogues he states:
In fraternalism or brotherhoods,
in the confraternal or fraternizing
community, what is privileged is
at once the masculine authority
of the brother (who is also a son,
a husband, a father), genealogy,
family, birth, autochthony, and
the nation. And any time
the literality of these
implications has been
denied, for example,
by claiming that
one was speaking
not of the natural
and biological family (…) or that the
figure of the brother was merely
a symbolic and spiritual figure,
it was never explained why one
wished to hold on to and privilege this figure rather than that
of the sister, the female cousin,
the daughter, the wife, or the
stranger, or the figure of anyone
or whoever.6
In his answer, Nancy counters this objection with the assertion that fraternity in
itself does not necessarily carry the values
of the masculine and paternal. He sees
the constant interpretation of family ties
along this patriarchal model in itself as a
projection that upholds the tradition of
emphasizing the father and the transmission to and through males. Fraternity
obviously includes elements of sorority
(sisterhood), but Nancy’s approach is not
intended to counter one with the other.
Instead, both of these concepts should be
seen as independent of “nature”, “origin”
or “foundation”. Sorority and fraternity
interlace just as the masculine and the
feminine do in general; therefore fraternity does not necessarily have to be a confraternity of males. The differentiation of
these two terms is strongly reminiscent
of Neuger’s distinction between solidarity
against and solidarity for: Confraternity
“unites subjects tending to be identical
since they are identified by a function, an
occupation, a role” (and in this sense they
form a solidarity against), whereas fraternity in Nancy’s sense is “the conjunction
of chance”, just as in the case of the family, and it poses the continuous challenge
of mastering that chance. Fraternity then
— and this is Nancy’s final claim — will always be an insufficient term, but it might
nevertheless be seen as providing a model
for a form of coexistence without necessarily referencing genealogy, privilege, or
the logic of exclusion.
Solidarity and exclusion
This discussion of solidarity (and fraternity) takes place against the background
of other attempts to define what is at the
core of acts of solidarity. Richard Rorty
once observed that solidarity seems to
work especially within groups that have
something in common or share a certain
identity. This would mean that solidarity is predominantly felt for somebody
who is like myself. Somebody might be,
as Rorty puts it, “a comrade in the movement” and accordingly she/he deserves
solidarity because we are working for a
common goal or share the same political
convictions. A striking phrase describing
exactly this feeling of a common bond is
the popular “people like us”. No further
reason is needed — people have our solidarity simply because they are “like us”,
good people. Tacitly, the claim presupposes a flip side: no need, no reason to
feel solidarity for the other people, the
ones who do not belong.
This is a puzzling and disturbing observation in relation to a humanistic concept
which is apparently based on the assumption that solidarity reaches out to everybody, to every human being regardless of
any further qualification in terms of race,
religion, nationality, social class, or political conviction. For whom is solidarity felt,
and who feels it? Or to put it another way,
what is needed for the bond of solidarity to
be established? The answer to this is not as
obvious as an enlightened optimist might
suggest by referring to the common characteristic of sharing an essential humanity.
First of all, one should perhaps say that
solidarity can only be strongly felt in relation to human beings. This counters what
for example the Swedish Green Party
(Miljöpartiet) defines as its party program
which, briefly, consists of three forms of
solidarity: with nature, with future generations, and with people.8 Although the
underlying intention of these forms might
be plausible, all three of them clearly go
beyond the concept of solidarity. If solidarity is a shared responsibility for and
with the other, then nature and future
generations can obviously not be the addressees of this common striving. Solidarity also seems to presuppose a mutual
commitment — mutually binding and mutually emancipating. Even the proclaimed
solidarity with “people” as an abstract
entity is difficult to grasp: Is it possible to
feel an obligation, a simultaneously emotional and yet deliberate, conscious tie
to all one’s fellow human beings without
any further qualification? This idea might
be found in the Christian tradition (every-
“but isn’t
solidarity with
all people as
abstract and
undefinable as
solidarity with
body is your neighbor) and also survives
in secularized universalism as in Kant.
But isn’t solidarity with all people as abstract and undefinable as solidarity with
nature? What would it consist in? Solidarity, it seems, always has to be concrete,
directed at somebody.
Whom then does it include, whom does
it exclude? As suggested, Rorty holds
that solidarity is always ethnocentric or
clancentric, that it will always look out
for a “fellow Roman”, for “Greeks like
ourselves” (as opposed to the Barbarians), or for a “fellow Catholic”. This last
example clearly shows that “clancentric”
is not meant in a biological or racial sense
— a “clan” does not have to be linked by
blood; it may also be a common belief
or conviction, the common fight for the
good cause etc. Yet however the “clan” is
precisely defined, it is a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion that solidarity should
always, and necessarily, be restricted to
a certain predefined group, that it should
always, and necessarily, be an inclusive as
well as an exclusive concept. Can there be
a solidarity that does not have its source
in a substantial unity, however defined?
Can there be a solidarity that defines a belonging, a togetherness, that may be only
momentary, transitory; perhaps more in
the form of a gift than of an obligation?
This is also the key question in Gustav
Strandberg’s contribution. Its cogent
title Solidarity of the Shaken already
indicates the direction of his approach
which attempts to develop an existential
understanding of solidarity. Strandberg
bases his reflections mainly on the philosophy of Jan Patočka, whose famous
formula “solidarity of the shaken” was
evidently inspired by his life as a dissident in communist Czechoslovakia of the
1970s. Patočka was the first spokesman
of Charter 77 (next to Václav Havel and
Jiří Hájek) and for a short historical mo-
Solidarity on a non-solid common ground.
on solidarity
ment his name became world famous in
March 1977, when the philosopher died
in dramatic circumstances while under
police interrogation. Even his burial was a
political manifestation, forever unforgettable for all who witnessed it. There is a
strong link between his thought and the
historical conditions and atmosphere of
that time. The opposition against a seemingly unshakable order and the fragile,
yet highly explosive character of a solidarity in resistance is very reminiscent of
Neuger’s account of the Polish Solidarność
movement which was to emerge only a
few years later. However, the most valuable impact of Patočka’s sketch of solidarity might be that it can also be read fully
independently of these biographical and
historical circumstances.
As Strandberg states at the beginning
of his article, solidarity traditionally has
to do with solidity, i.e. forming a union
with others on a firm and stable ground
of a shared identity. Yet for Patočka,
precisely this solidity is shaken. Those
who join in a “solidarity of the shaken”
do not obtain a common ground; it is a
solidarity brought about by existential
upheaval and disorientation, not by
sharing something but, in a sense, by
sharing nothing. It is a solidarity beyond
solidity. The underlying experience is
that of a confrontation with finitude and
meaninglessness. Strandberg relates this
closely to Heidegger’s analysis of anxiety
and Dasein’s confrontation with his/
her own death. He therefore rightly describes Patočka’s approach as “a solidarity in and for finitude”. It is our shared
experience of a loss and of insufficiency
that “will forever force us outside of ourselves in the direction of other people.”
One might also invoke Dostoevsky’s literary portrayals of existential occurrences
similar to those that were so crucially
important for Patočka. What they depict
literally is the same existential experience of an uprooting within which all
worldly and egotistic relations are transcended (egotistic in the sense of egorelated, not as a value judgment). It is an
existential breakthrough, opening up to
a “new meaning of life”, a life with others and a life in solidarity, the main event
of which is to be described not in a moral
on solidarity
dimension but exactly as this ontological
This is indeed a quite different and
“new” concept of solidarity, a solidarity
beyond solidity and a solidarity beyond
the exclusion of solidarity against. It is
revealing to compare this to the solution
suggested by Richard Rorty. After stating
that the new concept of solidarity should
no longer be ethnocentric or clancentric,
Rorty develops his own idea of a solidarity beyond these limitations. Solidarity,
in his answer, should be a solidarity of all
those who have come to distrust ethnocentrism! It is indeed a truly post-modern
answer, addressing the liberal, urban
and sophisticated people who have left
behind (or think they have left behind)
an essentialist view. But is it also a convincing suggestion? His attempt surely
addresses a crucial and painful deficiency
of the whole concept of solidarity. Yet
it is also highly unsatisfactory: What
solidarity presupposes most urgently
is trust: it therefore is an almost absurd
maneuver to base solidarity precisely
on distrust. Would the distrusters ever
do anything else other than exactly that,
namely distrust: distrust the concept of
solidarity and their supposed relationship
of trust and solidarity to other distrusters? Although at a superficial glance, the
“solidarity of the distrusters” seems to
be not far removed from a “solidarity of
the shaken”, it is precisely the lack of any
existential dimension that makes it difficult to trust an asserted solidarity of the
skeptical post-modernists.
The most apparent contradiction to this
intellectualized approach is expressed
in the article by Kateryna Mishchenko,
whose contribution is quite different from
all the other reflections. It does not deal
with solidarity from a theoretical or historical point of view, but out of a sense of
the immediate urgency of the topic. Written in a Ukraine in upheaval, a country
inflamed by the revolutionary events on
the Maidan and at the same time stricken
by the atrocities of an undeclared war, the
short essay mainly invokes solidarity on
two levels: first, the international solidarity with a country in turmoil and endangered from the outside (Mishchenko sees
the principle of solidarity itself under
attack, inflated and hollowed out by “idle
mind games” of the West and especially
the European Left), second, the solidarity
of and for those people bodily involved in
the conflict — their only answer being the
“wild savagery” of “self-dedication and
self-sacrifice”. This formulation exactly
recalls the idea of sacrifice in Patočka,
which is not sacrifice for a purpose or a
goal, but the inner necessity of a life that
is in “resistance to the ‘demoralizing’, terrorizing and deceptive motifs of the day.”9
This sacrifice is not a price to be paid for
something, but — as Derrida put it — the
“gift of death”, 10 i.e. the invocation of
life’s finitude as a means of life in the face
of the calculations of dead bodies. ≈
ludger hagedorn
Research Leader at the Institute
for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna.
1 Émile Durkheim, De la division du travail social
(Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France,
1893), 73ff; 118ff.
2 The most famous example of a solidarity overcoming kinship and fraternity is obviously the
Biblical story of the Good Samaritan taking
care of somebody who is not his kin. Accordingly, a truly solidary stance is independent
of being motivated by one’s own profit.
3 Announced as a temporary act of solidarity,
the levy still exists 25 years after the reunification and has long since become an extra general tax.
4 The Miners’ Strike Art Collection was shown
from March to May 2013 in Tensta konsthall.
5 Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, transl. P.-A. Brault and M. Naas (Palo Alto:
Stanford University Press, 2005) 56.
6 Derrida, 58.
7 Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1989) 190.
8 The party program defines itself with the following three claims of solidarity: (1) solidarity
for animals, nature and the ecological system,
(2) solidarity for future generations, (3) solidarity with the world and the people.
9 Jan Patočka, Heretical Essays in the Philosophy
of History, ed. J. Dodd (Chicago: Open Court
Publishing, 1996) 134.
10 Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. D.
Wills (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
Photo: Archive Photo of the Institute of National Remembrance, dated December 16, 1981
on solidarity
Some thoughts
on solidarity
efore I begin there is something I must explain. I will not
address the problem of how
you should deal with solidarity
against; instead, I will focus on solidarity
for. Moreover, I will not talk very much
about solidarity as loyalty, even though
loyalty is the most important ingredient
in solidarity. Solidarity/loyalty can also be
found among thieves, criminals, religious
groups, and various minorities, which
means that an idyllic view of the phenomenon is problematic. And two further
1. I will analyze the content of the word
“solidarity”, not for the sake of linguistics, but in the belief that words contain
memories as well as many other experiences, often conflicting ones.
2. I will talk a little about Solidarity, the
trade union in Poland, which was created
in August 1980 and crushed in December
1981. For the sake of convenience I will
use quotation marks when referring to
the union, or else use its official name:
the Trade Union Solidarity, or something
The word solidarity is a French invention,
more specifically of the Enlightenment.
In the Encyclopédie (1765), solidarité was
defined as mutual responsibility, but
the word was also used in the sense of
“independent, complete, whole” (from
solidaire). In many other European countries, however, the word emerged and
“Re-construction of December 16, 1981”, 2011
steel, archival materials, (Historical Reconstruction of the Gdansk shipyard gate nr 2, dated
December 16, 1981, after the destruction by T-55
tanks. Reconstruction based on archival photographs, IPN materials and witnesses of those
events.) The collection of European Solidarity
Centre, Gdansk; publication by courtesy of the
artist Dorota Nieznalska.
“even under
we can show
solidarity, and
this might be
the principle of
was assimilated in the second half of the
19th century. It derives from Latin and
its origin is related to capital: solidum in
Rome meant the whole sum, the capital.
As I said, it was from French that the
word made its way into English and many
other languages. We thus have two almost
contrary meanings: The first is based on
the idea of a firm point that guarantees
and creates independence. Its foundation can be economic, that you own the
whole sum, the capital, the lot, and in
this way you become independent. But
it can also mean that you jointly take responsibility for somebody or something,
that you create a community of mutuality, where you as a member of the group
act with consideration and without selfinterest, for the benefit of this group or its
individuals. Here, the personal and the
common intersect. The firm foundations
intersect as well. Economic independence is based upon capital, that is to say,
something over which the individual has
power (and which can be formulated: “I
have the whole sum, which is my firm
point and guarantee”); but at the same
time, this refers to a guarantee that lies
outside of human control, namely the
economy. Everything that builds up such
independence must be part of the financial exchange represented by money. By
contrast, mutual responsibility depends
on trust, based upon the inner reliability
of the group. This was how Jozef Tischner
reasoned concerning the ethics of solidarity (the title of his book), arising in the
encounter with the “Other”, who can be
very different indeed. Reasoning in this
way, all foundations are erased. Responsibility for and openness towards that
which is different becomes a groundless
ground, an imperative. Tischner followed
in the footsteps of Emmanuel Levinas,
but tried to interpret him through Christianity.
However, things are not always as simple
and idyllic as that: The word “solidarity”
has explosive potential. Its content tends
on solidarity
to find robust, less fickle grounds: ideology, nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny,
homophobia, politics, religion, etc. This
is where you build “solidarity against”,
when you need to find a strong identity
and defend it.
Economic independence is secure
as long as there is an economy. But the
“whole sum”, as we know, can evaporate during revolutions, catastrophes
or crises. Ethical independence too can
be unstable, momentary, ecstatic, and
explosive: as in a solidarity based upon
closing ranks against, excluding, rejecting
the other. To contain these significations
in a single word, namely solidarity, seems
an impossible task — which nevertheless
becomes possible. In spite of everything,
this is where some kind of impracticable,
impossible attachment happens. Solidarity is a child of the moment. The English
word “solid” has preserved this opposition: it means massive, compact, but also
steady, firm, strong, stable, reliable. Not
only that: “solid” can also mean affluent
and creditworthy.
When the union “Solidarity” was
founded in the autumn of 1980, as a result
of strikes all over Poland, it was difficult to
find a name for the phenomenon.
The story is simple enough. In August
1980, a strike broke out at the shipyard in
Gdansk. The workers, who were among
the fairly well paid, wanted a raise. In the
People’s Republic of Poland, such a matter was not difficult to resolve. Either you
agreed to the demands of the workers, or
you used the police, the military; this had
been done before and required victims.
“One begins by
acting out of
and suddenly
this horizon is
The workers demanded a meeting with
top politicians in order to solve the conflict, and the politicians agreed to this. But
they were in for a surprise. The negotiations took place in public: apart from the
strike committee, the other workers also
participated (through the internal radio at
the shipyard). And the workers circulated
between the room where the negotiations
took place and other places in the shipyard. Every decision made by the strikers’
committee was a joint decision.
Among other things, it transpired that
a female worker had been sacked from
her job for political reasons. The strike
committee demanded that she should be
reinstated. The politicians agreed to this.
But now it turned out that many of those
who had cooperated with the workers at
the shipyard in Gdansk were imprisoned,
and the strike committee demanded that
the politicians should free them as well as
all other political prisoners.
To this, the authorities would not
agree. Now the issue was no longer
Gdansk, the shipyard or money. It was no
longer a strike, but a kind of revolution:
all strike rules were broken, it was no longer a struggle based on self-interest, and
before the politicians had time to find a
solution (either agree to the demands or
suppress the revolt by force), strikes had
broken out all over the country, primarily
in big enterprises: mines, ironworks and
other companies of great importance
for the economy. In these cases as well,
therefore, the strikers were among the
fairly well paid. Money, economic exchange ceased to be the foundation or
model for representation. There were
strikes demanding compensation for lowwage groups, instead of simply a rise in
I am not going to relate the whole history of “Solidarity”. What I want to point
out here is that this is where the attachment, the inner connection contained
in the word solidarity is most clearly
manifested. One begins by acting out of
self-interest, and suddenly this horizon is
What should this new phenomenon be
called? It was clear that what had been
created must be called a union. At the
same time, it was clearly not a union.
Those involved were conscious that the
strikes had succeeded by virtue of solidarity, but the word itself had become somewhat overused through propaganda,
where you had to declare your solidarity
with everything that the authorities pointed to. Thus the name: “the Trade Union
Solidarity” had a somewhat suspicious
ring. Therefore ‘Independent’ was added:
“the Independent Trade Union Solidarity”. But not even this was satisfactory.
Why? I think it was because the word “independent” pointed to the outside world
or, in plain language, to the authorities. It
emphasized that those within the movement were independent from “those
people”, who could no longer influence
them. But something was still missing.
Intuitively, those involved wanted to find
a name for solidarity that both preserved
and erased the intersection between
unselfishness and solidity. And so yet another word was added: “self-governing”.
Rather amusingly, then, the name of the
emerging movement finally became, in its
entirety, “the Independent Self-governing
Trade Union Solidarity” — as a kind of explication of what was originally, from the
very beginning, contained in the simple
word solidarity. And so a relatively small
strike by the workers at the shipyard in
Gdansk turned into a very solid movement: out of Poland’s whole population of
33 million, 10 million became members.
“Independent, Self-governing”: can
this be accomplished? Suddenly a new
player had entered the political stage —
with enormous force. Simultaneously it
expressed an attachment with explosive
energy. At once “Solidarity” became a
troublesome player for the others, that is
to say the Communists and the Catholic
Church. Interestingly, when “Solidarity” exploded, it remained a democratic
movement. It was extremely decentralized, in accordance with the pattern set
during the strikes. Weaker organizations
or companies could count on the support
of the stronger ones. Strikes broke out
almost incessantly. Note that the other
players, the Party and the Church, were
hierarchic or feudal. Decisions in such
structures can only be made by one or
a few persons. In “Solidarity” this was,
paradoxically, both impossible and necessary: you had to adapt to the other participants. The country was on the brink of
economic and social disaster.
A paradox: When the movement
emerged, it was as a form of solidarity
with vulnerable groups — workers, peasants, political prisoners and the intelligentsia. How is this compatible with its
enormous force, which led to the movement becoming a massive majority in
the country? They were also very proud
of this success, so proud that it might be
interpreted as complacency.
Among the many literary and scientific
works of Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin
(1842—1921), there is one with the title Mutual Aid (from 1902), in which he repudiates Darwinism’s “struggle for existence”
and claims that it is not competition but
solidarity that is the main driving force
of evolution. Kropotkin was a Russian
aristocrat. In the second half of the 1860s,
he spent a few years in Siberia, where he
worked as a civil servant and geographer
and experienced revolts among exiled
socialists and Polacks, revolts that were
bloodily suppressed. Geographically,
then, his writing has its origins in what
are perhaps the most inhospitable areas
“And so a
relatively small
strike by the
workers at
the shipyard in
Gdansk turned
into a very solid
conceivable, where the conditions are
extremely difficult for people and animals.
Politically, it deals with Russia, that is to
say, a country with an extremely autocratic
and unrestrained government. Socially,
the background of his work is formed by
the theories of Darwin and his followers,
in particular “Social Darwinism”, which
claimed that the struggle for existence is
the core of evolution in both animals (Darwin) and people (the Darwinists), and that
the stronger, better adapted will be victorious. Everything is about competing with
and forcing out your competitors (the rat
race). This did not accord with Kropotkin’s
experiences from Siberia. He pointed out
that even the animals in these harsh conditions transcend the principle of Darwin,
and that people stand by and support one
another. This eventually became the core
of anarchism. “Mutual aid”, regardless of
one’s political stance, says a lot about our
paradoxical situation: even under difficult
conditions, we can show solidarity, and
this might be the principle of evolution.
Now, perhaps this only happens in a state
of emergency, as an exception; but perhaps this exceptional state of emergency is
to be found not outside, but inside of us? In
that case, it happens instantaneously, and
in a rift or an attachment. On this point,
Kropotkin would certainly not agree with
me, but I am convinced that the rift or attachment is something that can only be
expressed in art, in an instant of explosion.
That is to say — and here I am close to Kropotkin — in an extreme decentralization
and individualization of life.
Prince Pyotr Kropotkin died 1921 in
Dmitrov. He was given a state funeral,
despite the fact that he had been forceful in his opposition to the Bolsheviks
Solidarity as a strategy for mere survival?
on solidarity
and the Communists. “Where there is
power, there is no freedom”, he claimed.
Masses of people followed his body on
its last journey, both in Dmitrov and in
Moscow where he was buried. 100,000
people turned out, despite the terror that
prevailed in Russia. They turned out carrying the banners of anarchy and signs
demanding that their fellow anarchists be
released from prison. It has been claimed
that this was the largest voluntary manifestation in the history of the Soviet
Union, and the last on such a scale. Politics aside, the manifestation very much
confirmed Kropotkin’s theory. People
conquered their fear — instantaneously.
This was what happened in Siberia in
1884, in Moscow in 1921, and in Poland in
1980. But this was also what happened in
Sweden in 1968, and in Czechoslovakia in
1968. The same is true of the revolutions
in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt etc. that we witnessed recently: explosions of solidarity.
Jacques Derrida once wrote about hospitality. Among other things, he pointed out
how strongly hospitality is connected to
the regulating norms of the law and also
how much it depends on the unselfishness that lies at the basis of hospitality,
against a background of relations of power. We are visited by someone extremely
different. In fact, in such a visitation, we
don’t know for sure if the other has come
to visit us or to haunt us. Derrida inscribes
this event in the Messianic tradition and
its way of thinking. He writes about the
risks that the host takes in opening his
or her door to a stranger: a stranger who
might be Jesus, the Messiah, or a murderer. In its explosive phase, solidarity opens
a door, takes the risk. But solidarity also
contains other foundations, leading to a
closed door. ≈
leonard neuger
Professor at the Institute of Slavic Studies,
Stockholm University.
on solidarity
Between invisible labor
and political participation
Women in the Solidarność movement and in today’s politics in Poland
A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is
actually an obstacle to your flourishing. It might involve food, or a
kind of love; it might be a fantasy
of the good life, or a political project. (…) These kinds of optimistic
relation are not inherently cruel.
They become cruel only when
the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim
that brought you to it initially.
Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism
he concept of invisibility always
strikes me as deeply paradoxical, since most invisible things
we know of have deep, materialized and often painful effects on the
lives of humans. Their materialized, embodied consequences lead far beyond the
basic issue of their existence. In her Invisible Heart, Nancy Folbre puts it as follows:
“The invisible hand represents the forces
of supply and demand in competitive
markets. The invisible heart represents
family values of love, obligation and reciprocity. (...) The only way to balance them
successfully is to find fair ways of rewarding those who care for other people”. In
this short text I would like to discuss the
(in)visibility of women in 1980 and in Polish politics today, suggesting a feminist
perspective which will not focus solely on
exclusions, but also recognize participation. The context of invisible labor allows
us to see the duality, or even perhaps the
dialectics, of the participation and exclusion of women in the political field.
The situation of women who joined
the Solidarność Independent Workers’
Unions in 1980 was in many ways similar
to that of women in Poland today. One
could even argue that it was better in
many respects, since abortion was legal,
jobs were stable and daycare was free
of charge. Women were engaged in the
dren, women do — at least in Poland) and
movement; some of them actually started
housework to do. During an artistic projthe strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard, like
ect at the Gdansk Shipyard in 2004, I conthe crane operator Anna Walentynowicz,
ducted interviews with ten female shipwhose dismissal was the direct trigger of
yard workers, some of whom
the strike on August 14th 1980,
or the tram driver Henryka
had been working there in
Krzywonos, whose famous
1980. Their memories were
action in stopping the tram
bitter, as their hopes for betin the center of Gdańsk parater conditions for workers
lyzed communications in the
and women had clearly been
city center and led to the
betrayed in the economic
spread of information about
transformation of 1989. The
the strike and subsequently
main thesis of David Ost's
to supporting protests in
book The Defeat of Solidarity,
other workplaces. The nurse
published in 2005, seems
Anna Walentynowicz
and political activist Alina
fully legitimate in the context
Pieńkowska was the third of
of these interviews; his thesis
the women from the Gdańsk Shipyard,
is that the Solidarność movement actuwho helped force the continuation of
ally abandoned the workers and turned
the strike on August 16th 1980 when Lech
against them in the building of the new
Wałęsa and other men had their moment
capitalist society after 1989. In 2004,
of doubt. These women became famous
facing their precarization on the labor
in the whole country, and rightly so.
market, these women were sometimes
Subsequently they became the object of
working three shifts in rough conditions
several feminist studies trying to underand risking accidents. They were not acstand the later exclusion of women in
tive in labor unions, because apart from
Solidarność. In Solidarity’s Secret, Shana
the burden of excessive paid work at the
Penn focused on the women who pubshipyard they also had unpaid housework
lished Tygodnik Mazowsze, the key periodito do. In most cases, their families were
cal of the Solidarność underground after
financially dependent on them, yet the
the introduction of martial law by General
traditional gender work division applied
Jaruzelski on December 13th, 1981, and Ewa
to them as much as it had to their mothKondratowicz published a series of interers. While men working in the shipyard
views with women of the opposition in a
always had time to sit down and talk with
study titled “Lipstick on the Banner”.
me after their work, the situation was different with the women. I could only talk
It might be worth recalling that in 1980
to them during their short lunch break,
women constituted some 30% of the
in the morning when they were changing
manual workers at the Gdańsk Shipyard.
clothes for work, or in the evenings when
They usually operated the gantry cranes,
they got ready to leave the shipyard. For
mainly inside the shipyard buildings.
that reason, the process of conducting
Most of them led a traditional family life,
the interviews took some three weeks
doing the majority of the housework.
altogether, and I believe that no journalist
Although most of them subscribed to the
interviewed women in the shipyard either
newly created Solidarność union, they
before or after that, since it was so much
did not usually have time to engage in it
easier to make an appointment for a long
as much as men did, since they “had chilconversation with the majority of men
dren” (apparently men do not have chilworking there.
on solidarity
“In 1980, women's
participation in
the Solidarność
was far from
Photo: Leszek Passive
The striking inequality in
the division of labor between
women and men persists not
just in the working class families, but in households in Poland regardless of their class. It
results from traditional values
strengthened by the Catholic
Church and by school education. It is also a typical effect of
the precarization of patriarchal
societies: When state institutions and employers cease to
provide care structures and
facilities, it becomes the task of
women to take over these duties. These specifically genderrelated aspects of precarity
often escape the attention of
theorists of precarity, such as
Guy Standing or Michael Hardt
Triumphant leaders of Solidarity at Nowy Targ, October 19, 1980. From left; Andrzej Gwiazda, Alina Pienand Antonio Negri, yet they
kowska, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Anna Walentynowicz, Lech Walesa, Ryszard Kalinowski, Marian Jurczyk.
constitute a substantial part of
feminist research in this field,
particularly in the work of Silin’. A movement that once prioritized
via Federici.
feminism’s complicity.
social solidarity now celebrates female
Gender inequality in Poland is also an
In 1980, women’s participation in
entrepreneurs. A perspective that once
unfortunate result of a feminism which
the Solidarność movement was far from
valorized ‘care’ and interdependence
did not criticize the neoliberal transforinvisible. Women were present from
now encourages individual advancement
mations of the first twenty years after
the start of the strikes in the shipyard in
and meritocracy.” Interestingly, some
1989, producing a narrative on gender
Gdańsk, they were on strike in Szczecin
feminists in Poland and other countries
equality which reduced women’s particiand Łódź, they “took over” several highly
of the former Eastern Bloc reacted to
pation in politics to the installation of the
important activities in Solidarność after
quota system and inviting more women to this article in a very critical way, pointing
its de-legalization in December 1981,
to the supposed “western-centrism” of
join political parties. Ironically, the politimainly printing and distributing the unFraser and her possibly uncritical praise
cal party which actually had the highest
derground press, organizing meetings
of care labor. I believe that this shameless
percentage of female delegates in the Parand education, supporting the thousands
attempt to hide behind the veil of the supliament after 1989 was the ultra-conservaof imprisoned activists, documenting the
posedly colonial aspects of Fraser’s article abuses of the “bezpieka” (secret police),
tive League of Polish Families (LPR).
only proves the inability to take responand arranging and redistributing material
The harsh critique of feminism’s involvesibility for the human costs of the neolibhelp from abroad. The invisibility of these
ment in the implementation of neoliberal
eral transformation. As much as I agree
tasks was compounded by the fact that
politics offered by Nancy Fraser in her
with some feminists of color who rightly
all of this work was illegal. It was a form
article published in the Guardian in 2013
challenge Fraser’s use of the “feminist
of housework, but directed at the commost appropriately summarizes the comwe”, in the case of Polish liberal feminism
mon good; a personal involvement, but in
plicity of the vast majority of the Polish
a more appropriate reaction to the article
public matters — a form of public involvefeminist movement in the perpetuation
should consist in a sincere reflection on
ment, which clearly escapes the classical
of social and economic inequalities, both
notions of public sphere, such as the one
in Poland and globally. Her emphasis on
proposed by Habermas. It might be seen
the rejection of egalitarian feminism in
as a form of counterpublic as defined by
favor of an individualistic entrepreneurial
Nancy Fraser or Alexander Kluge, but a
version also sounds very convincing in
hybrid form, not a monolithic entity.
the Polish context: “Where feminists once
Carole Pateman suggests that the
criticized a society that promoted cainterconnections between what has
reerism, they now advise women to ‘lean
been called the “public sphere” and the
on solidarity
“private” are stronger than most liberal
theorists suggest. Thus she not only accepts the feminist slogan “the personal is
political”, but also provides philosophical
legitimation for it. When analyzing the
“republic of the brothers” and the “fraternal social contract” in liberal democracies, Pateman not only recapitulates the
Freudian/Lockean visions of the contemporary republic, but also joins forces with
the feminist psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray
in suggesting that this triumphant institutionalization of organized boyhood usually takes place on the women’s (sometimes
dead) bodies. While Irigaray shows how
the exclusion of women is grounded in
the symbolic erasure of the mother from
the origins of state and society, Pateman
concentrates on domestic violence and
career restrictions to explain women’s de
facto absence in politics.
Other feminist authors point out that
even today, the fact that affective and care
labor occupies women’s time and energy,
forcing the alienation and exploitation of
women, constitutes a necessary element
of the system of capitalist production.
Domestic labor is not only exploitative,
as Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Silvia Federici
and other feminists have argued. It is
also a way of sharing a life with others
as depicted in the work of bell hooks, or
even an element of “love power”, as Anna
Jonasdottir has argued in the last 30 years.
The Solidarność movement made at least
three explicit claims to embrace these efforts of women, in the “21 postulates” of
the workers unions in 1980: the demands
for women’s retirement at the age of 50,
for three years’ paid maternity leave, and
enough daycare centers for all children.
However, the Solidarność movement
lacked any comprehension of the structures of gender inequalities, and I believe
this is the reason for the later exclusion of
women from its structures, as well as for
the conservative turn of the movement
and the political parties which originated
in it. This all led to the neglect of women’s
issues in Polish politics after 1989.
We can reduce Solidarność to a sexist, misogynist entity altogether, as has
often been done, but before doing so
we might also want to examine how
the gender difference actually worked
there. We might also want to compare
this particular movement with other
social movements of the time in order to
understand whether and how it differed
from them in its gender bias. Interestingly, the outcome of this comparison
is surprisingly positive for Solidarność
which had its known female leaders in
the working class — the legendary trio
of crane operator Anna Walentynowicz,
nurse Alina Pieńkowska and tram driver
Henryka Krzywonos — as well as in the
intelligentsia, including counselors such
as Jadwiga Staniszkis, journalists and
authors such as Helena Łuczywo and
Joanna Szczęsna, activists such as Barbara Labuda, probably the only declared
feminist in the movement in 1980, and
lawyers such as Zofia Wasil-kowska and
Janina Zakrzewska. How many women
do we know of in the working class resistance at the time of Thatcher's neoliberal
takeovers in the early 1980s in England?
How many women were there in the
Free Speech Movement in the USA? In
the Anti-Apartheid mobilizations in
South Africa? Or in the French students
mobilizations of the 1960s? Probably not
more than in Solidarność — and I emphasize that not because I would like to
idealize this particular social movement,
but because I think that social and academic perceptions of it should
be corrected.
In the first days of
Solidarność, most of
the international
legal guarantees
of gender equality
had not even been
prepared. The UN
Beijing Declaration, probably the
most famous and
document concerning
rights of women and girls,
was not even written in 1980; it
was only signed in 1995. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),
had just been adopted in 1979, and the EU
Convention on preventing and combating
violence against women and domestic
violence would only be signed in 2011, not
by all the EU members, not even by Poland (!). Feminist theory in 1980 already
recognized the influence of domestic
labor on the lives of women, as in the 1976
sociological study of Ann Oakley or in the
short texts of the Italian Marxist feminists
Federici and Dalla Costa; the late 1970s
also saw the critical analysis of the appropriation of affective labor by corporate
marketing and sales in Arlie Hochschild’s
study from 1979. The tendency of the
time, however, was for women to withdraw from male-dominated social movements and to form their own.
If Solidarność is to be judged correctly,
another comparison should also be
drawn concerning the state apparatus in
Poland. Women did not occupy important positions in the state institutions in
1980. They were decorative elements of
ministerial salons. Female participation
in the Parliament of the “2nd Republic”,
the communist state, varied from 4,14 %
in the late 1950s (!) to 25% after the elections in 1980, which could also be seen as
inspired by the political mobilization of
women in the opposition.
The fact that we still know and remember the names of the key women in the
Solidarność movement is, in my opinion,
due to the radical democratization of
the public sphere in 1980. This
is a moment which would
serve as a great example
of the “mésentente”
(disagreement) described by Jacques
Rancière. The appearance of the
nurse, the female
crane operator and
the female tram
driver was, as we
might say according
to Rancière, a “new
division of the sensible”. It
was a sign and a declaration to
the entire society that women do engage
politically, and rightly so. The fact that
more feminist writing has been devoted
to the (in-)famous slogan on the wall of
the Gdańsk Shipyard Kobiety, nie przeszkadzajcie nam walczyć o Polskę (“Women,
Solidarity as an act against. Sharing an enemy.
do not disturb our fight for Poland”)
than to the women actually involved in
Solidarność is a shameful proof of the lack
of recognition for these women rather
than an indication of scientific and historical accuracy in Polish feminist studies
of that period. The performative dimension of this sudden presence of women
cannot be reduced to an “exception” and
explained away as “accidental”. It was
a genuine element of the early days of
Solidarność and should be analyzed as an
example of the unprecedented political
mobilization of working class women.
Soon more women joined the unions, and
— as Małgorzata Tarasiewicz estimates in
an interview concerning the “Women’s
Section” of Solidarność — they constituted
some 50% of the movement. Tarasiewicz
and other feminist writers and activists
seem to see Solidarność only through the
lens of the activities of the leaders of the
movement in the 1990s, when abortion
was made illegal and the traditional role
of women in society and gender inequality were strengthened. It could actually
be true that the unwillingness to grasp
the performative political importance of
female leaders in the movement of 1980
derives from a more general reservation
against the working class — a very unpopular topic in the 1990s in Poland. The
female Solidarność leaders might still be
waiting for their theorists.
The “Women’s Section” of Solidarność was
only set up in 1990 and closed in 1991 by
Marian Krzaklewski, Wałęsa’s successor.
It was undoubtedly an expression of the
deeply conservative approach that he
and other male members of Solidarność
showed in regard to women and their issues. However, we should perhaps take
into account how women function in
contemporary social movements, including worker’s unions, how their role has
changed since 1980 and 1991, and also
how the actual activity of actual women
in actual labor unions has contributed to
these changes. Otherwise we risk projecting contemporary norms and practices
back onto movements that are already
historic. We might also want to rethink
new forms of invisibility of women in
politics and social agency, far more in-
labor’ has
been the major
obstacle to
their political
and involvement,
both now and in
the past.”
fluenced by economic inequalities and
poverty than in the heyday of Solidarność.
Today some women obtain important
political positions. Does this mean that
housework is more appreciated, that
gender roles have changed or that we live
in a more egalitarian society? I would not
say so.
It seems ironic that the 2014 annual women’s demonstration in Warsaw, the “Manifa”, was held under the slogan “Equality
at home, equality at work, equality in
schools”. Although the repetition in the
slogan has often been criticized, one
has to insist on the fact that equality still
has not been attained. Since women in
Poland today make up 96% of the victims
of domestic violence and rape, as well as
the majority of the 14% of the labor force
who are unemployed, while their salaries
are usually 20% lower than those of their
masculine co-workers, the demand for
equality seems justified. Women are denied access to abortion and to contraceptives; sexual education is fully dependent
on cultural and economic capital and
is fully privatized. Women’s “invisible”
labor (housework) earns the equivalent of
40% of the gross domestic product (GDP)
according to the Polish Central Statistics
Office (GUS); however women are neither
rewarded nor respected for it. The “glass
ceiling”, “sticky floor”, and “moving
stairs” phenomena, reducing women's
career opportunities, are especially widespread in business, academia, and medicine. The traditional cultural stereotype
of “Matka Polka” (the Polish Mother) also
forces the majority of women to comply
with a heteronormative, strongly paternalistic and simply sexist conformity to
on solidarity
the traditional roles of mother, care giver,
and sex worker which, combined with
the general precarity in the labor market,
makes women particularly dependent on
partners and friends and reduces the urge
of most women to engage politically.
Women’s invisible labor has been the
major obstacle to their political participation and involvement, both now and in
the past. Reducing this labor to a colonized zone where women are deprived
of the value of their work dismisses an
important part of the actual value of
this work, which resides precisely in its
affective character. It should neither be
reduced to its material results, nor to the
supposed “immateriality” of its affective
practice, since affection, as contemporary
studies rightly show, is neither immaterial
nor independent of the social. This labor
can, however, contain a strong emancipatory potential for those who decide to
unlearn privilege, who not only claim but
also practice equality. For these, the “love
power” of the women of Solidarność and
other female political activists will not just
be the essential symbol of a monumentalized past, but above all a living example of
political agency, strength and solidarity.
From the perspective of the reduction of
women’s rights in the neoliberal transformation and its cutting of social services
and support, the engagement of women
in Solidarność might be seen as a version
of cruel optimism, which — as Lauren
Berlant explains in her recent book — consists in an attachment to the object that
was supposed to lead to happiness, yet
has become an obstacle to pursuing it.
But on the other hand we might also claim
that this involvement is a lesson we can
learn from — a lesson about the necessity
of establishing egalitarian, feminist theory and practice in every social movement
aiming at political change. ≈
ewa majewska
PhD in philosophy,
Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry.
Dedicated to Ms. Henryka Krzywonos.
on solidarity
he French Republic is perhaps
the only state in the world to
have a motto in which the word
“fraternity” (fraternité) occurs.
Whether or not it actually is the only
one, the fact is that its motto has enjoyed
a fame closely linked to the fame of the
Revolution of 1789, which has always
been regarded — after the English and
American revolutions, which were more
strictly national in character — as the inaugural moment of democracy in the sense
of an appeal to all nations and peoples.
This was the background for the motto
attached to the Republic, not from its very
start but at least from the year 1793, and
which didn’t become fully functional — if
that is the proper expression — or acquire
all its force until the Second Republic in
1848. The historical facts are complex
and unclear on this point, but it was
certainly some time before the tripartite
motto — that is, with Fraternity added
to the other two words, and without the
complement “or death”, used in 1793 —
was fully adopted. Even after this adoption, groups and persons proposing other
mottos could still be found, in particular
within the workers’ movement. Thus the
employment agency (Bourse du Travail)
in the town of Saint-Étienne, established
in 1888, carries the device: Liberté Egalité
Solidarité Justice (“Freedom, Equality,
Solidarity, Justice”).
To some extent, the term “fraternity” has
been clearly linked to a register that could
be called romantic, in the wider sense,
and to a way of thinking that goes beyond
the strict limits of the laws and institutions of State in that it appeals to the sentiment and idea of a “community” rather
than to principles of social organization.
This explains the desire to distinguish the
word from others like “solidarity” and
“justice”, which can be seen as developing the implications of the first two terms,
in particular “equality”.
Today, fraternity is not often considered benevolently — at least not in
France — as it is felt to carry too much of
a sentimental, not to say familial connota-
tion, at a time when family is no longer a
point of reference. When Maurice Blanchot used the word in a context where
he wanted to emphasize the affective
aspect of “community”, he incurred the
reproach (also directed at me) of Jacques
Derrida, who more than once expressed
his mistrust of a term that is simultaneously familial, masculine, sentimental
and Christian-sounding. Moreover, no
one — apart from the two just
mentioned — seems to have
laid claim to the expression in the political
thought of the last
forty years. On the
contrary, the use of
this term by a candidate in the French
presidential election
some years ago, and its
repetition by the candidate who was then elected
(President Sarkozy), revived
all the mistrust towards a word
considered to be moral rather than political, and sugary rather than responsible.
All these analyses might lead to this
argument (which incidentally can be
employed not only against the use of
the word but also, by some, in its favor):
whereas liberty and equality express our
civil rights, fraternity is not a civil right.
Is it then, perhaps, a duty? This issue
is not often formulated, instead giving
way to the idea of a wish, an aspiration,
and hence to a reality that is of little
substance, if not simply utopian and
deceptive. Besides, it can be said that all
the well-known debates concerning the
idea of a “utopia” are implied by those
concerning “fraternity”. Here one can see
the lasting influence of the anti-utopian
tradition originating with Marx, for whom
this word masked an illusion.
To pose the question of fraternity anew,
we must begin with two postulates: (1) It
is not obvious that this notion ought to
be defended, and we should not ignore
the apprehensions raised by its familial,
Christian and sentimental character;
(2) If there are nevertheless reasons for
according some credit to this word, we
must start with a renewed examination of
its signification and, going further back,
of the signification of family.
The first postulate simply recommends a certain degree of caution. It is
not advisable to adopt this notion without
considering the possibility of finding
oneself constrained by the predicates
“familial, Christian, sentimental”. As concerns family,
this is something that the
second postulate will
lead us to scrutinize.
As regards Christianity and sentiment
— simultaneously
separate from but
undoubtedly also implicated in each other
— it is appropriate to say
this: each of these terms
signifies a well-known reality,
in one case the dominant religion
of the non-Muslim Western world, in the
other the uncertain, even disturbing and
hazardous sphere of that which continues
to elude the control of reason.
But these two characteristics might
actually be in need of closer examination,
even though it is certainly not impossible
to attribute them to each of the ideas
concerned. In fact, it might turn out that
they have themselves been marked by
certain habits of thought sedimented in
the course of our history.
We will therefore return to them once
we have clarified the notion of “family”.
To begin with, the patriarchal family,
where the suspicion of masculine sexism
in the idea of fraternity originates, is not
the only possible structure of that which
is called “family”: It could be defined as
the minimal social group for the purposes
of reproduction and its consequences
(raising children until they become independent). Perhaps one might even claim
that it is the reflection or projection of
strongly masculine and paternal social
and political models onto the family that
have accustomed us to emphasize the fa-
Solidarity and the question of equality.
on solidarity
ther and the transmission to and through
Be that as it may, there is a more important point: “brothers” are not originally those united by the same blood.
For “blood” is nothing but the symbol of
filiation through the transmission of semen (of a natural identity or conformity),
and filiation itself is represented according to an ancient scheme in which the
mother lacked any generative power of
her own (and was instead seen simply as
an incubator). “Blood” is by no means a
sufficient explanation of what comprises
generation and filiation.
Sons and daughters are not so much
those united by blood — pater incertus,
said the Roman law — but rather those
united by the community of maternal
nursing — mater certissima: whether it be
real or symbolic, nursing does not consist
in the internal, continuous and immediate transmission of a vital principle, but
in the external, discontinuous and mediated gift of a nourishing substance. Feeding is a process of incorporation of alien
substances that the body metabolizes
into its own substance. The bond with
the mother is a paradoxical bond where
incorporation (certissima) is opposed to
identification (the child doesn’t identify
itself, it absorbs the maternal substance
into its own, autonomous substance); the
bond with the father is identification, not
with a body or a substance (incertus), but
with a figure or a sign.
It is here that we must start in order to
reconsider family and fraternity. Brothers — and sisters, a point we will return
to — are initially autonomous subjects
whose coexistence is not founded upon
anything but a commonality of feeding, of
nourishment (compagnon signifies: someone who shares the bread), and on the
absence of reasons for their communal
life. The figure or the sign of the father,
that which is often called “the law of the
father” but would be better called “the
father as law”, is not determined from
the start. On the contrary: the figure is an
empty outline or sketch, a sign carrying a
“‘Fraternity’ is
certainly an
term, even if not
necessarily a
dangerous one.”
fleeting, indeterminate signification.
It is of course possible for the father to
function as a full figure, just as it is possible for the mother not to nourish, or to
malnourish (all of which is of course to
be understood on a symbolic level, just
as “father” and “mother” are not necessarily the parents, biologically or legally).
This is not the rule, however: the rule, if
this word can be used here, would rather
be that nothing guarantees the “community” of brothers beyond nourishment.
The transition to independence, made
possible by the nourishment, also signifies the recognition of being together by
accident, in a community without origin
or any given meaning. (In Freudian terms:
the “murder of the father” precedes the
“father”, who is only erected as the figure
of his own absence.)
In this sense, “being siblings” is the
model of “society”, as an association
without substantial (ontological, original) necessity. It is thus also the model
of “having to adjust to living together”,
rather than of “being together”. Finding
or creating an equivalent or substitute
for maternal nourishment is a task — or
rather a desire — that is both more and
less than social: what is at stake is “being”
or “meaning” (which might pass through
art, religion, love, celebration, thought —
but not through the socio-political).
But giving content to the figure or sign
through which the instance of “the law”
is indicated presents an inescapable and
urgent enterprise, since their original lack
of content poses a threat.
My intention here is not to continue
the analyses from these premises, which
would have to go in several directions.
It is only to emphasize this: “fraternity”
does not in itself carry the values of the
masculine and the paternal as we ordinar-
ily understand them. Fraternity speaks
of coexistence not necessitated by either
“nature”, “destiny”, “foundation”, or “origin”. Incidentally, this is why the motif
of enemy brothers plays such a prominent
role in mythologies of all kinds. Usually,
such an enmity is understood as a kind of
moral monstrosity, when in fact it states
the simple truth of a relation that is in itself erratic, lost, and even senseless.
At the same time, fraternity also carries the shadow or the obscure memory
and desire of communal nourishment.
In this, it is no doubt rather a “sorority”
(sisterhood), and in this regard it must
be admitted that the fraternal privileges
a masculine unilaterality. Sorority would
be fraternity beyond or on this side of the
law, in the sphere or spheres of nourishment, which is to say of “eating/rejecting”, which are also the spheres of affect.
Fraternity and sorority cut across each
other, they even interlace, just as masculine and feminine more generally do. The
carriers of these roles are never strictly
identical with the complex singularities
of either persons or groups: no one is
simply and completely either “man” or
“woman”, and a fraternity [fratrie] is not
necessarily a confraternity [confrérie] of
males. Perhaps these two terms might
also serve to distinguish two tendencies
in the semantics of “brothers”: Confraternity unites subjects tending to be identical since they are identified by a function,
an occupation, a role. Fraternity belongs
to the family, which is only, as I said, the
conjunction of chance (meeting) and an
embrace (desire) — given that the meeting
on the one hand is almost always subject
to preliminary arrangements (social, local, etc.), and that the desire might also
have been replaced beforehand, wholly
or in part, by arrangements. The idea of
“marriage”, in so far as it falls under the
law (that is to say, not under spirituality or
a nuptial mystique), sums up the situation
well: it is a question of mastering chance
or — and at the same time — legitimizing
the arrangements. Marriage, one might
say, is the true birthplace and event of the
on solidarity
This might lead to the assumption that
nothing remains of desire and that everything is subsumed under the dispositions
of the socio-political. This is only a tendency, however. For one must not forget
that the law — legality, the State — is always founded upon a withdrawal of every
founding principle. The figure or the sign
of the father, and consequently also that
of fraternity, offers a vacancy that must
be filled in one way or another. Brothers
are originally orphans of a father and cannot be identified as belonging together
by anything at all — except the absorption
of the maternal nourishment, leading to
their emancipation.
As soon as the paternal vacancy — the
“vacancy of power”, as it is called in the
socio-political register — is manifested as
such, one must confront this conspicuous truth, which no founding mythology
can hide (a function always imperfectly
fulfilled, whatever the mythologies might
be). This is the destiny of democracy: it
must assume this vacancy without appealing to a mythology.
The maternal or feminine side or register does not provide a mythology — at
least not for the order of the law; at least
not for supplementing the absent father.
Desire does not allow itself to be captured
in representations. It acts, it plays, it
buries or throws itself into the sensible
density of nourishment: hunger, saturation, hunger again — without end. Or also:
life, death. And also: art, thinking, love,
the trembling of being and, if one wishes
to mention them, the gods. This is the
constant lesson, from Antigone and Scheherazade on to Hester in The Scarlet Letter
and then Vera Figner, passing through
The Bacchae of Euripides.1
It is therefore not surprising that democracy aspires to provide for itself, in
itself — for that within itself that exceeds
the strict register of the law — a dimension that provides access
to desire or to affect: to
that which I here name
only hesitatingly, in order to designate this
outside of law and of
power, vacant or not,
in which being-together exceeds its own
sociality and governmentality. If “freedom” and “equality” represent — on the
condition of always being rethought — the
minimal conditions of a civil association
without any given foundation, “fraternity” might indicate the horizon of this outside of the socio-political. Strictly speaking, it is not even a horizon: it is rather an
open breach in every form of horizon and
delimitation. This breach is that of meaning or sense: sense in so far as it always
refers elsewhere, to an elsewhere, instead
of attaching a final signification.
To remain consistent with the preceding statements, however, I must recognize
that this fraternity should be understood
as a sorority, or even as the dissolution
of principle between brothers and the
reference this implies on the one hand to
the law as the fiction of a connection (and
as the uttering of this fiction), and on the
other hand to the reality of the transmission and sharing of nourishment, that
is to say of the affect through which the
substance of the world is ingested and rejected (impulsion/expulsion, impression/
expulsion). The sharing of impulsion/expulsion, the communication of affect: this
is, once again, sense (sensible, sensual,
Perhaps, then, one should say neither
“fraternity” nor “sorority” — for exploiting this oversimplified inversion would
make sisters the symmetrical counterpart
of brothers. But the two sides are not
symmetrical: if brothers no doubt are
distinct from sisters, the sisters on their
part might fraternize with the brothers,
in a brotherly and sisterly way. There is
no symmetry between the sexes, or if
so, only when they are considered exclusively from the point of view of brothers
(equality in political, social terms etc.).
“Fraternity” is certainly an insufficient term, even if not necessarily a
dangerous one. Nevertheless
it is a signal: it alerts us to
the fact that the social,
juridical and political
order cannot assume
the register of sense.
It can only provide
the framework of
sense. But it is essential that it should do
so, and that in order to do so, it is able by
itself to indicate that it is beyond the law,
in a place where sense emerges.≈
jean-luc nancy
Professor emeritus of philosophy,
University of Strasbourg
1 Against the law of the Sultan, Scheherazade
opposes her imagination, her spirit and her
heart; she also acts with the support of her sister Dinarzade. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester
eschews the social law of marriage, for which
she is sentenced to the pillory and the “scarlet
letter”. The Russian anarchists, in particular
the women (Vera Zasulich, Olga Lubatovich,
etc.), originally conceived their action not so
much in political as in human — thus “metaphysical” — terms, in the widest sense (in accordance with the very idea of “anarchism”).
Vera Figner writes: “The doctrine that promises the equality, brotherhood, and happiness
of all people would truly impress me” (Mémoires d’une révolutionnaire, Gallimard, 1939,
258). In The Bacchae, the women of Thebes
leave the city for the wild forest upon hearing
of the return of Dionysus. Needless to say, the
list could be continued … from Sarah laughing
at God to Simone Weil, who was able to write,
in 1940: “All of the changes that have occurred
for the past three centuries bring humanity
closer to a situation where there will be absolutely no other source of obedience in the
world except the authority of the State” (Œuvres, Gallimard, 1999, 382), or the daughters of
General Hammerstein, sisters whose story has
been so well told by Hans-Magnus Enzensberger.
on solidarity
The Solidarity of the Shaken
istorically the concept of soliity? Is solidarity forever bound to its soliddarity stems — like a number
ity, to the question of a solid and common
of our political concepts —
foundation for its unity? Can we in any
from Roman law, in which
way understand solidarity beyond these
the formulation obligatio in solidum
designated joint liability for a financial
One of the thinkers who, perhaps most
debt. So the concept was initially a rather
strikingly, tried to develop another connarrow term in financial law that stated
ception of solidarity was the
the conditions of a specific
Czech philosopher and politiform of debt, in which all the
cal dissident Jan Patočka. In
cosignatories were in a status
his magnum opus, Heretical
of joint liability for a financial
Essays in the Philosophy of
debt: if one of the debtors
History from 1976, Patočka
could not repay his debt the
developed what he called a
other cosignatories would, in
“solidarity of the shaken”.2
other words, be forced to pay
The starting point for his
his or her part. This juridical,
analysis is Martin Heidegger’s
financial sense of solidarity
insistence in Being and Time
would then continue to live
Jan Patočka
that human existence, Daon in legal discourse: we find
sein, is always and a priori a
it for example in the French
being-with: a being-with the world and
Encyclopedia and in the famous Code civil
a being-with others. in other words, our
of Napoleon from 1804.
existence is primordially an existence toEtymologically, the roots of the congether with other people; we do not exist
cept of solidarity stretch back to the Latin
word solidus: a noun designating an entire as singular individuals who try to makesum or a solid body. In this sense, the con- contact with others, in a second step or by
way of some kind of Hobbesian need. But
cept of solidarity carries with it the meaneven though Heidegger’s analyses serve
ing of a certain solidity. To be in solidarity
as an important background to Patočka’s
with others is, at the same time, to be a
understanding of human existence,
part of a whole which constitutes a solid
he is nevertheless critical of Heidegger
unity: that is, a unity in which the differprecisely in regard to his descriptions of
ences between its particulars have been
the being-with of human existence. To a
leveled out into a more or less homoglarge extent, this critique revolves around
enous whole. In other words, the concept
Heidegger’s inability to analyze the speof solidarity seems to lead us towards an
cifically political nature of this being-with,
understanding of community that rests
or rather, the form of this being-with that
upon a common and solid foundation.
constitutes a political community.
We would thus be in solidarity with othTaking his bearings from Heidegger’s
ers because we have a solid and common
analyses in Being and Time, Patočka sets
ground under our feet: a common cause,
a common debt or a common nature serv- out to trace the contours of a political
community; not, however, by focusing
ing as the solidity of our solidarity.
on the paragraphs of Being and Time that
In different ways and in different forms
explicitly deal with the question of the
we can observe how the concept of solibeing-with of human existence, but rather
darity, throughout most of its history, has
on the passages in which Heidegger derevolved around precisely this question,
scribes the fundamental attunement of
namely, what or who constitutes the comhuman existence, namely, anxiety. For
mon ground upon which the solidity of
Heidegger, it is only through anxiety that
our solidarity can be construed.1 But is
we are brought before ourselves, that we
this the only way to conceive of solidarare confronted with our own finitude and
Solidarity of the shaken. Change and chaos call for solid ground.
thus exposed to the abysmal nothingness
that our existence rests upon without ever
being able to come to rest — the ground
without ground that un-grounds us perpetually.
In Being and Time the confrontation
with our own finitude by and through
anxiety is the precondition for a proper
existence, the only way in which human
existence can tear away the anonymous
veil that clouds it in social life. However,
the proper, the own, is nothing else than
our own nothingness: to exist properly is
to realize that the proper is far from any
kind of property, that our most proper
belonging is nothing but the weight of our
own finitude. But even though the “proper” of human existence therefore cannot
be equated with a property, a quality or
an essence, Heidegger is explicit concerning the fact that this is an experience
in and of the singular: “insofar as it ‘is’,
death is always essentially my own”.3
For Patočka, on the other hand, this experience is a collective and historical experience. And even though he retains the
formal structure of Heidegger’s analysis
of anxiety, it is clear that what he is trying
to capture can no longer be equated with
the phenomenon of anxiety, at least not
exclusively. Patočka will instead describe
this as a “loss of meaning” or a “loss of
the world”; the vertiginous experience of
meaninglessness that we are faced with
when each and every stable support in
our life collapses.4 In fact, for Patočka this
meaninglessness is the origin of meaning — it is only by and through the experience of the complete absence of all meaning that the very question concerning
meaning becomes meaningful. Meaning
is, as he himself puts it, always “an activity which stems from a searching lack of
meaning, as the vanishing point of being
problematic, as an indirect epiphany”.5
Meaning can, in other words, only emerge
through a radical destruction of all given
meaning, and even then it only appears
as something unapparent, as an “indirect
epiphany” or as a sudden glimpse of that
which withdraws from all given meaning:
on solidarity
it appears as the unapparent gift of the
This experience of a loss of meaning is
not only something that affects us as individuals, but must, as Patočka emphasizes,
be understood as a rupture that has the
potential to shake an entire community.
According to Patočka, this is in fact precisely what occurred with the establishment of the Greek polis. It was only by
and through a radical rupture with the
earlier mythological order of the world
that the Greek polis and its auto-legislative
order could be born. The groundlessness
of this event, that is, its complete rupture
with any given meaning and the concomitant search for meaning that it implies, is
something that, in Patočka’s eyes, lies at
the very heart of history, philosophy and
This groundless event is thus what
constitutes politics in a proper sense; it
constitutes the moment when each and
every foundation for the political order
must spring from this order itself and not
from some distant and mythological ἀρχή.
However, this not only holds true for the
historical constitution of a given political order; it is also the event from which,
according to Patočka, a specific kind of
community — a certain form of beingwith — can evolve. This is the solidarity
that Patočka terms the “solidarity of the
shaken”. This solidarity is not constituted,
or grouped, around a certain foundation,
idea, or ground. It is not constituted by
anything or anyone. In fact, the only unifying aspect of this solidarity is found within
the abyss of meaning itself, in the fragile
and fleeting nothingness of a common
loss: in the common loss of a common
ground. Consequently, there is nothing
solid about this solidarity. On the contrary,
it is the seismic shaking of this solidity that
constitutes the epicenter of the solidarity
in question. This seismic tremor does not
however give off the loud rumblings of
thunder, but trembles in silence:
The solidarity of the shaken is
built up in persecution and uncertainty: that is its front line, quiet,
without fanfare or sensation even
where this aspect of the ruling
Force seeks to seize it. It does not
fear being unpopular but rather
seeks it out and calls out quietly,
The call of this solidarity is quiet and
wordless, but, in fact, it is not only silent:
It is invisible and intangible as well, precisely because it remains beyond sense (it
is neither sensible nor sensuous). The solidarity of the shaken transcends sense, it
transcends meaning, since it is that which
“makes sense”: It stems from an event beyond any given meaning, an event that is
the very opening of meaning as such.
To speak of a solidarity beyond sense
or meaning does not however imply that
the solidarity in question lies beyond
the world, or beyond existence. What
Patočka is trying to come to terms with
is rather a solidarity at the limits of existence and at the limits of experience: the
experiences of the limits of existence. As
such, it can also be described in terms of
a trans-immanence, as a transcendence
within the immanence of human existence. It is a solidarity within existence,
but a solidarity that touches upon and receives its form from the nothingness that
is inherent in the human condition.
is not a void that other people can fill up
or complete, but an insufficiency that we
are bound to and that we share with others. Our insufficiency is therefore not the
mere opposite of a sufficiency. It is rather
an insufficiency that, as Maurice Blanchot
beautifully puts it, “is not looking for what
may put an end to it, but for the excess of
a lack that grows ever deeper even as it
fills itself up”.8
To call for a solidarity of the shaken is
thus nothing short of a call for finitude,
but a call for finitude in a world that has
palliated and repressed death to its vanishing point. This is a call that will forever
remain silent, a whisper barely audible in
the technoscientific world of globalized
capitalism. But in spite of this it remains,
as Patočka phrases it, a “no” to the
forces and powers that be: the same silent
warning and prohibition that Socrates,
daimonion once pronounced. It is in this
rejection that its political potential is contained: it is the rejection that marked the
dissidence of Patočka both as a thinker
and as a political figure. It is, in short, the
solidarity for all of us who lack solidity.≈
gustav strandberg
For Patočka this experience of the limit
is — as it is for Heidegger — an experience of our own finitude. To be sure,
in anxiety we are confronted with our
imminent death, but the limits of human existence, the fragile and forever
ungraspable border that demarcates and
delineates our self, is something that we
encounter not only in anxiety, but in love,
art, and thought (this list can certainly be
extended): a nothingness that permeates
us, however well hidden and concealed it
may be in our contemporary world. The
solidarity of the shaken is, in other words,
a solidarity in and for finitude. It is our
shared loss of a stable foundation, our
shared insufficiency, which will forever
force us outside of ourselves in the direction of other people. Our co-existence
with others is for this very reason, as
Patočka writes, “entirely founded upon
our insufficiency: I am not in myself, in
my isolation, that which I am “in itself”,
in force…”.7 This insufficiency is not
however a lack that can be overcome, it
PhD candidate in philosophy,
Södertörn University.
We find it in Charles Fourier and his utopian
understanding of the Phalanx; we find it in
Mikhail Bakunin’s humanistic conception of
solidarity; and we find it in Kurt Eisner’s ”cold
and steely” solidarity that is founded upo“n
reason itself.
2 Jan Patočka, Heretical Essays in the Philosophy
of History, trans. Erazim Kohák (Chicago:
Open Court, 1996).
3 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan
Stambaugh, (Albany: State University of New
York Press, 1996), 223, § 47.
4 Patočka, Heretical Essays, 56.
5 Patočka, Heretical Essays, 60-61.
6 Patočka, Heretical Essays, 135.
7 Jan Patočka, “Leçons sur la corporeité”, in Papiers phénoménologiques, trans. Erika Abrams,
(Paris: Jerôme Millon, 1995), 85.
8 Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris (New York: Station Hill
Press, 1988), 8.
on solidarity
Sacrifice is just another word
for solidarity in Ukraine today
In Ukraine today, “solidarity”
means self-dedication and sacrifice — and is more tangible than
ever before.
ife in Ukraine today still seems
unbelievable to me. This life,
in its dramatic or rather tragic
fullness, is much too fast to live.
The countless Ukrainian lives cut short in
the last six months make it especially unbearable. The spiral of violence in Maidan
square in the winter of 2013/14 turned
into a Russian roulette of war in spring,
and then into a twister of terror in the
summer. The first three deaths at Maidan
were a national tragedy. The daily reports
of deaths in the Donbas became a quiet
routine, with names rarely mentioned; instead numbers were stated like “200” for
the dead, “300” for the wounded.
These countless deaths — along with
the spectacular photos of the protests —
brought our country to the attention of
international media, and guaranteed that
this attention would not fade. But one
must continuously refuel this interest
with newer and more horrifying cases.
Statements like “dying for one’s beliefs”
or “the Ukrainians paid a high price for
their association with the European
alliance” reveal the principles of postMaidan politics between Ukraine and its
neighbors Russia and the EU. Ukrainian
lives were used as an alternative currency
in the “Ukraine crisis” — this is a politics
of dead bodies.
Yanukovych’s flight has cost us hundreds of lives. Daily, dozens of lives are
lost fighting the Putinist counter-revolution. The latest EU sanctions are rooted
in that silent field somewhere in the
Donbas —the crash site of the Malaysian
aircraft. Such politics reveals the way the
country perceives itself and the way it is
perceived. Only a generous package of
corpses provides a powerful argument for
granting basic rights in a country and to a
country the national sovereignty of which
is not taken for granted and where the
right to protest against police violence
and dictatorship is not self-evident.
The true Ukraine of today is embodied
by the soldier of our army. Under a relentless sun, he sits in the trenches with
equipment bought by volunteers and
awaits the aid that has long since been
announced on TV. His corpulent general
sits somewhere in his office, his deployment and his location have already been
disclosed to pro-Russian squadrons, and
the medication in his box was already
all sold by corrupt colleagues in the Ministry of Defense in 2003. The only thing
this soldier has is Hope and the solidary
shoulders of his fellow combatants and
helpers, who, like him, stand close to
death. It is he who can best assess to what
extent solidarity is a core principle of the
European vision. He could have done this
for some time now, as he probably raised
the EU flag at the Maidan barricades in
But the political body of the EU is itself
in the trenches, trapped by economic
interests. In a sense it is asking itself
what the point of this Russian-Ukrainian
war is, and is reluctant to believe in war
against itself. What is actually being attacked here is precisely solidarity as the
basis of the European structure. In this
sense, solidarity after “Europe’s last war”
is more tangible today than ever before.
The intention is not to eliminate but to
radicalize it.
flight has cost
us hundreds
of lives.
Daily, dozens
of lives are
lost fighting
the Putinist
counterrevolution. ”
The European Left — a utopian umbrella term that probably only holds true from
the Ukrainian perspective—turned a blind
eye to the uprising of the oppressed and,
instead, preoccupies itself with idle mind
games that oscillate between geopolitics
and conspiracy theories. The leftist Subject, which in our minds should stand for
“solidarity without borders”, is cozying
up with anti-imperialist and anti-American hallucinations. Ignorant of its colonizing mentality, it speculates about the
Ukraine question merely as a topic in the
daily paper. It thinks nothing of the countless demonstrations in European capitals
against the dictatorship and war in the
Ukraine, where the only participants are
members of the Ukrainian diaspora.
In the imagination of post-heroic Europe,
the daily Ukrainian sacrifice lies somewhere outside its sphere of reflection
and action. The only thing that helps in
the midst of this political isolation is passionate self-dedication and self-sacrifice
as a substitute for solidarity. The weakest
take on the most difficult task. Their wild
sacrifice and self-dedication, to the point
of self-destruction, prepares the ground
for overcoming anonymous calculations
and impulses. Yet this kind of self-sacrifice
has to be mitigated. Otherwise, there is a
risk that this wild savagery will become
the trophy, a historical price that has to be
paid in a conflict of globalized politics. My
country, the Ukraine, would play the role
of an unfortunate and exemplary case in
this conflict — including the list of many
nameless bodies of the dead.≈
kateryna mishchenko
Lecturer in the history of literature
at Kyiv Linguistic University
Note: This text was written from Ukraine in
the fall of 2014.
on solidarity
Final remarks
olidarity is the tenderness of
peoples (or nations)”, a saying
attributed to Che Guevara, is
the best-known formulation of
the leftist adoption of the concept of solidarity.1 The statement was widely used
in socialist countries. In the GDR it was
often referred to in solidarity campaigns
etc. Yet even the link to the iconic figure
of “Comandante Che” can hardly obscure
the fact that the romanticizing slogan is
in tension with the revolutionary aims of
Marxism. Despite its appeal to equality
and the mitigation of injustice, solidarity is possible only within a structure of
inequality — it presupposes inequality
but also, in a sense, upholds it. The act
of solidarity may indeed soften an all too
flagrant hardship and suffering, yet it will
not lead to a full equalization of chances
and living conditions. Solidarity necessarily involves the rather condescending
movement of those ‘who have and give’
towards those who have not (not only
in terms of money and commodities,
but also including the ‘capital’ of time,
energy, resources). Karl Marx, therefore,
attaches no great significance to the concept of solidarity.2 It runs counter to his
idea of revolution, which is meant to abolish and finally overcome all kinds of social
inequality and injustice. Solidarity not
only seems to presuppose inequality but,
within the logic of revolution, it even to
some extent prolongs the state of inequality by mitigating social contradictions and
alleviating the worst hardships. Solidarity
seems to have something in common with
the idea of charity, with sympathy and
support for those who are neglected. No
wonder that Marx can do very little with
it — his primary aim is not to better the
conditions of people here and now, not
some kind of compromise solution that
will make harsh injustice a bit milder. His
ultimate goal is revolution, and revolution
is not concerned with the well-being of
those involved in the process, but with
the definite and sustainable change of societal conditions.
Yet it is not only his concern for the
irreversible and permanent change of
societal conditions that
keeps Marx from advocating solidarity. The idea
of solidarity also entails an appeal to individual human agency and
the individual’s freedom of choice. Marx
however insists on historical progress as
a necessity. Revolution will be brought
about by the iron laws of historical development and by the change of social conditions. It is a process fully independent
of morality and responsibility, whereas
the appeals for solidarity address exactly
these capacities for individual agency.3
Not surprisingly, it is Marx’s fierce antagonist, the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin,
who was the most outspoken proponent of
solidarity among the leftist thinkers of the
19th century. It is, in fact, one of the leading
principles of his thought. For Bakunin,
the initiator and the driving force for all
revolutionary change is the human being,
the individual, not the dependency on a
gradual development of mankind in accordance with the objective historical conditions. This conviction is also the guideline
for his understanding of solidarity as the
basic principle of humanity. No human
progress will come from a change of government; even Marx’s dictatorship of the
Proletariat will still resemble the old monarchy, because it will be the domination of
the masses from the top, the domination
by a privileged minority that allegedly
knows the interests of the people better
than they themselves do. His opposing
model is therefore the emancipation from
the bottom which will only be attained by
the principle of mutual solidarity.
This humanistic approach of universal
solidarity and mutual emancipation is
somewhat tainted by the fact that Bakunin
also built on the concept of race to explain
the differences in the development of civilizations. Some of his writings also make
heavy use of anti-Semitic clichés. One
could feel tempted to overlook this as the
expression of personal resentments that
do not affect his theoretical approach. Yet
these shortcomings in fact seem to hint
at a deeper and more general problem.
Bakunin is indeed a detractor of repression by
the state and by religion,
but his anarchism is itself not
free of repressive elements and civilizational preconceptions. Bakunin’s idea
of solidarity builds heavily on essentialist
views of humanity, humanism, morality,
enlightenment, etc., all of which are abstract, thereby creating a model of what
the individual human being has to be. His
theory presupposes a human essence that
is necessarily good, disregarding the inherent vices and evils of the human condition. Solidarity becomes a solidarity of the
“good”; it thereby remains re-affirmative,
self-affirmative, and circular in its logic of
exclusion. Our discussion is driven back
to the issue of overcoming the concept of
solidarity against.
Perhaps we have to concede that any solidarity deserving the name should be the
fragile, temporary and uncertain ‘solidity’ of the moment. It should acknowledge
that it does not give the answer to any
eternal and essential concepts. Solidarity
occurs only when insufficiency and finiteness are recognized and acknowledged.
The very wound that can neither be negated nor healed is that which reunites
us. Solidarity is not confined to reducing
the suffering of others because I might
find myself in their place at some point;
nor is it a co-suffering that makes suffering more endurable because we can share
it. Solidarity is something that responds
to this wound, the shared experience.
In looking for what still is the common
bond, communitarianists often refer to a
common good: they try to strengthen social responsibility and establish a model
of bottom-up solidarity, that is, a solidarity of smaller groups (families, communities) on the level between individuals and
the state. But whereas these supposed
grass-roots initiatives in the communitarian view tend to operate within a certain
political and economic order, driven by
the attempt to reshape, rebuild this order
according to what is seen as the “common
good”, perhaps we should look for some-
Solidarity colored by ideology. Serving as a role-model.
A missing air force plane.
The secret of the Cold War
thing in solidarity that is beyond political
and economic order, not aiming at a new
shape but attempting to keep the ontological, political, existential space open.
There is no common good, but there is
perhaps a common experience, an experience of groundlessness and unrootedness.
Counterintuitively, the phenomenon
of political and existential groundlessness described is not something that
isolates, but, paradoxically, that might
enable a true understanding of community. Patočka’s quoted “solidarity of the
shaken” expresses precisely this: a solidarity of those who have lost their trust in all
positive political values such as pacifism,
socialism, democracy, etc. which might
serve as common goods for reshaping the
society. Perhaps the outcome of solidarity
counts less than the atmosphere that it
creates and in which it unfolds its explosive message.≈
ludger hagedorn
Note: All texts on solidarity were collected by
Ludger Hagedorn in the realm of the research
project Loss of grounds as Common Ground
directed by Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback.
1 In 2010, Leonardo Boff characteristically
held: “Without the solidarity of all towards
all and also for Mother Earth, there will be no
future for anyone. (…) Che Guevara put it well:
Solidarity is the tenderness of the people. It is the
tenderness that we must give to our suffering
brothers and sisters…”
2The word “solidarity” might show up a few times
in his huge oeuvre, but it is not connected to any
idea, nor does he even come close to developing
any systematic approach to the topic.
3 The French political philosopher Chantal
Millon-Delsol emphasizes precisely this
personal involvement in the act of solidarity.
She criticizes a widespread tendency,
characteristic of the political left, to identify
solidarity with equal distribution and to
create what she calls “an improbable dream
of solidarity free of all human additions”
(cf. Chantal Millon-Delsol, “Solidarity and
Barbarity”, Thinking in Values, no. 1/2007,
Craców, 79).
n Friday June 13, 1952, the
Swedish Defense Staff issued the
following statement (here in translation):
An aircraft from the Air Force, ordered
to carry out a navigation flight above
the Baltic Sea in connection with radio
operators training, has been missing
since around 12 o’clock this Friday.
This statement, partly false, marks the beginning of one of the most significant traumas
resulting from Sweden’s difficult geo-political
position during the Cold War. It implied the
loss of eight servicemen and two aircraft, and
strained relations with the trans-Baltic neighbor, the Soviet Union.
For a long time, Sweden had maintained a
foreign policy of non-alignment with explicit
neutrality in the event of war. The Soviet occupation and annexation of the three Baltic states
made the Soviet Union a territorial neighbor
across the Baltic Sea. With the beginning of
the Cold War, Sweden had an interest in being
prepared for a possible attack from the East,
whereas the possibility of Western intrusion
seemed less likely and also
less dangerous.
In order to understand the
organization of the Soviet
military in the Baltic area, different methods were used. One was
signals intelligence collection (SIGINT) of radio
and radar signals, both indicating communication from and to the location of installations.
Given developments in technology, it was
deemed necessary to use surveillance aircraft
to patrol the Baltic Sea with equipment that
could listen to and detect radio communication
and radar signals. In 1948, the Air Force Materiel Administration purchased two Douglas
DC-3s and had them converted into flying laboratories, one for research and development,
the other one for signals intelligence collection.
The operations started in 1951, usually one
flight a week, suggesting a route in the southnorth direction over international waters in the
Baltic between the island of Gotland and the
Baltic coast at an altitude of 4500 meters. The
planes were slow and unarmed, with a staff of 8
Kalla krigets
[The DC-3:
the secret
of the Cold
A missing air force plane
persons, 3 of whom were Air Force employees,
the others belonging to the Swedish signals
intelligence organization Radio Institute of the
Armed Forces, FRA.
During the flight of June 13, the aircraft
was attacked and shot down by a single Soviet
MiG-15 jet fighter in international airspace,
disappearing into the Baltic Sea with its eight
men. For a long time, only one rubber lifeboat,
unused but containing air-to-air munition
fragments, was found. A rescue operation
was started, involving two Catalina amphibious rescue aircraft. The search included areas
much closer to Soviet territorial waters than the
route of the DC-3, as estimated currents would
have moved life boats in that direction. In the
morning of June 16, one of the search planes
was attacked by two Soviet jet fighters and had
to make an emergency water landing; before it
sank, the whole crew was saved by a West German merchant vessel.
While the “Catalina” affair was much publicized, the fate of the DC-3 was hidden for a long
time for security reasons. Swedish notes to the
USSR about the DC-3 were met with allegations
of transgression of two foreign aircraft which
had been chased away by Soviet airplanes.
Much of the reality was uncovered during
the time of the Soviet Union and, after 1991, during the period of Russian openness in the early
1990s, and, finally, as a result of the localization
of the wreck in 2003, and salvage in 2004.
The history and details of Swedish SIGINT
operations and the DC-3 incident are portrayed
and explained in the book by Christer Lokind,
a retired Swedish lieutenant colonel and an
expert on military intelligence. It is full of maps
and photos of the situation and organization
of the Cold War in the part of the Baltic Sea between Gotland and the Soviet mainland, Riga
Bay, and the Estonian islands.
The book also gives an explanation of mistakes and faults on both sides that led to the disaster. On the Swedish side, the slow, unarmed
aircraft equipped with surplus receivers and
other material was perhaps seen as a peaceful
“listener” to Soviet communications, shuttling
over international waters. However, in order to
improve its measurement of the characteristics
to the Soviet radar stations, the aircraft had
to make short, head-on “attacks” towards the
Illustration from the reviewed book by Christer Lokind.
“target” for a few minutes, then return to its northerly route. This
was done twice, and intercepted by Soviet radar. In Soviet eyes,
it was a provocation. Other facts indicate a certain naiveté on the
Swedish side. At the time, there was no radar air surveillance coverage from Swedish mainland radars, and the aircraft only had
occasional radio contact with its home base. A Morse call to the
home base was made but suddenly interrupted when the plane
was attacked.
The Soviet military was worried because of its obvious lack of a
modern air defense. Just a few months before, a number of US/
British “penetration flights” had entered deep into Soviet territory. They were seen on radar, but were not intercepted because
Soviet air defense fighters did not have any air intercept radar and
thus could not intercept any targets in low visibility or darkness.
But the Soviet air surveillance radar was effective, which makes it
strange that the DC-3, appearing regularly in daylight on the same
route, would be labeled as “foreign” and not Swedish. The Soviet
explanations were partly contradictory. When the Swedish investigative team for the case visited the Soviet Union in November
1991, the information given by Moscow was that the order to down
the aircraft was made by the chief of the Baltic Air Defense Region and not authorized from above. The decision to conceal the
downing was then made at the highest political and military level.
The DC-3 affair was a thorn in the Cold War history of Sweden
and the surviving families were long bereft of information on
the fate of those lost. Christer Lokind’s book is a testimony of
surveillance and its victims in the Baltic Sea area during the Cold
War. Surveillance did not, however, end with the Cold War. It
continues to this day, and lately there have been confrontations
between Russian and “Western” aircraft. ≈
thomas lundén
Professor emeritus of human geography, CBEES, Södertörn University.
Piotr Wawrzeniuk
PhD, history. Head of project
“Roma Holocaust in Ukraine
1941–1944: history, memory,
representations” at the Institute of
Contemporary History, Södertörn University,
and Director of Studies, Department of Military History, Swedish Defense University.
Mose Apelblat
Former official at the European
Commission. In recent years he
worked as policy coordinator for
public administration reform and
good governance in the candidate countries.
Regular commentator on EU affairs as well as
other issues.
Kjetil Duvold
PhD in political science. Senior
lecturer at Dalarna University
and senior researcher at CBEES,
Södertörn University. Currently
involved in a project analyzing public opinion
in the three Baltic states “European Values
under Attack?”.
Madina Tlostanova
Professor of philosophy at the
Russian Presidential Academy
of National Economy and Public
Administration, previously professor of history of philosophy at the Peoples’
Friendship University of Russia. Currently she
is working on a book on decolonial aesthesis
and the post-socialist imaginary.
Ilkhin Mehrabov
PhD candidate at Karlstad University’s Department of Geography,
Media and Communication.
Originally from Azerbaijan, with
previous studies in Turkey, obtaining degrees
in electrical-electronics engineering and
media and cultural studies. His thesis focuses
on mediatization and surveillance.
Ekaterina Vikulina
PhD in cultural studies and lecturer at the Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow).
Research areas: visual culture
studies, media, photography, gender and the
culture of the Soviet “Thaw”. Member of the
Art Critics and Art Historians Association.
Daria Dmitrieva
Culture researcher, PhD, with interests in modern culture, popular
culture, comics, visual culture, and
culture theory. Founder and director of the cultural center “PUNKTUM” (http://
www.punktum.ru ). Head of publishing house
“IZOTEKA”. Lecturer at the Russian State
University of the Humanities, Moscow.
Tetyana Bureychak
Independent researcher and
GEXcel International Collegium
open position fellow affiliated
with the Unit of Gender Studies,
Linköping University since June, 2012. Her
research interests lie in feminist and gender
theories, critical studies of men and masculinities, nationalism, gender politics, and
consumer and visual culture.
Yulia Gradskova
Associate professor of history,
Södertörn University, Institute of
Contemporary History. Areas of
research: Soviet gender politics
with respect to minority women, Soviet body
and family politics, Soviet internationalism in
comparative perspective.
Lars Fredrik Stöcker
PhD in history and civilization.
Currently postdoctoral researcher
at the Centre for Russian and
Eurasian Studies at Uppsala
University. He focuses on early marketization
in the USSR and the role of Western people
and organizations in the implementation of
market-oriented economic reforms in the
Estonian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian Soviet
Socialist Republics.
Ludger Hagedorn
PhD and research leader at the
Institute for Human Sciences in
Vienna. From 2005 to 2009 he
was a Purkyne Fellow at the
Czech Academy of Sciences. His main
interests include phenomenology, political
philosophy, modernity, and secularization. As
a lecturer, he has worked at the Gutenberg
University of Mainz, at Södertörn University
and for several years at Charles University in
Prague. Recently, he has also taught for
New York University in Berlin.
Leonard Neuger
Professor of Polish language
and literature, and translator.
Researcher at the Institute of Polish Literature and Culture at the
University of Silesia (1974–1982) in Katowice,
where he founded Solidarity. Interned and imprisoned 1981–82. Researcher at the Institute
of Slavic Studies, Stockholm University, and
its director since 2003. Author of over 200
scientific papers and critical essays.
Jean-Luc Nancy
In 1973, he received his doctorate
with a dissertation on Kant. Nancy was then promoted to Maître
de conférences at the Université
des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg. In
the 1970s and 1980s, Nancy was a guest
professor at universities all over the world.
In 1987, Nancy received his Docteur d’état
which was published 1988 as L’expérience
de la liberté.
Gustav Strandberg
PhD student in philosophy at
Södertörn University. He is writing
a dissertation on the political
thought of Jan Patočka with the
provisional title “Abyssal Politics – the political thought of Jan Patočka”. His main areas
of study are phenomenology and political
Ewa Majewska
PhD in philosophy. Since 2003
lecturer at the Institute for Gender
Studies at the University of
Warsaw. In 2013/14 senior visiting
fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences
in Vienna. She has published two monographs and some 30 articles. Currently
a visiting fellow at the Institute of Cultural
Inquiry in Berlin.
Kateryna Mishchenko
Writer, editor, and translator of
German in Kyiv. Born in Poltava,
she studied German and literary
studies at the Kyiv Linguistic and
Hamburg University. Lecturer in history of
literature at Kyiv Linguistic University and
translator in human rights and social spheres.
Co-founder of the Ukrainian publishing house
On the web you can find Baltic Worlds’ Election Coverage as well as additional conference reports.
conference report
the magic of moomin
on’t worry!” That was the repeated message from our
Russian contact, Sergei, regarding the “International
Scientific-Theoretical Conference” on the “Philosophical Experience of Children’s Literature: The Moomins
and the Others” to be held in St. Petersburg in October of 2014.
And, though everything about the conference seemed shaky at
first—Would it happen at all? Where, exactly? Was it really one of
those infamous Potemkin villages that we read about in school?—
we needn’t have worried, for this conference, more friendly and
easygoing than its spectacular name promised, actually took
place, to our great pleasure.
On the first day, all translation between Russian and English
was given after the speeches, which meant that everything took
longer than planned. When Sirke Happonen from Finland spoke of
Tove’s illustrations and put her in the context of art history — Doré,
Beskow, Bauer, Arosenius, and Picasso — the language issue was
no big problem, fortunately. The same went for Ekaterina Levko,
a Russian speaking excellent English while using Russian for her
video presentation! She also realized that coffee is as important for
conference delegates as for the people of Moominvalley. She talked
about Moominmamma’s bag, the best survival kit in the world, and
pointed out that the magic of Moominvalley is not separate, as in
Lewis’s Narnia books, but seamlessly part of our world.
Coffee breaks soon became an opportunity for interaction, despite our tight schedule. Agneta Rehal-Johansson was able to discuss the meaning of the red ruby in Finn Family Moomintroll with
Kuisma Korhonen, who talked about interpretations of the Groke,
of the Hemulen as a cross-dresser, and of Tofslan and Vifslan (he
refused to say Thingummy and Bob) as a secretly lesbian couple.
On the last day of the conference
I learned several new things. From
Maria Majofis I understood that the
Characters from the cartoon
film Sergei had shown us portrayed
The Moomins (Muumit).
Janusz Korczak, who worked with
children in the Warsaw ghetto and
walked with them to the gas chamber in Treblinka, and is an icon
of the Soviet educational system. His death has been treated on
stage, but there is nothing about the Holocaust in Soviet children’s
literature, Majofis said.
Kuisma Korhonen was moved to tell us that, as a child, his mother
had been sent alone to Sweden during the war, a traumatic experience for many Finnish children. Maria Vorobjeva gave us interesting
facts about Soviet-style Moomins (the USSR was known for ”pinching” books without paying the authors). She talked about the first
translation of Comet in Moominland (1977), where she found many
“Sovietisms”, words referring to politics and the military. There was
an interesting discussion about this, since some delegates contended that this “biased” choice of terms is to be found in the original.
Very obvious changes were made in Soviet animated films, where
the Moomin characters were totally made over, infantilized, and humanized: the Hemulen looks more like a monk than a cross-dresser,
and so on. Yaroslava Novikova spoke of a very popular children’s
book by Jansson’s contemporary Yrjö Kokko, Pessi ja Illusia. When
Jansson drew costumes for a stage production of the book, Kokko,
typically, didn’t find them “national” enough.
From the second day on, we were in a technically advanced room
at the Institute of Philosophy, with simultaneous translation.
There our host Sergei Troitskii talked about children as natural
philosophers, wanting to find out the true nature of things. When
he showed a sequence from an Andrzej Wajda film about a bearded man, surrounded by children, I wondered who that was. Later
this was explained to me (and soon will be to you).
Elena Burovskaya discussed the relationship between children
and adults in the Moomin tales and other books for children and
appreciated the fact that Tove Jansson depicts a world where the
generations are together. Lada Shipovalova also talked on the lines
of quest and journey in an attempt to combine philosophy and
children’s literature. She also showed that the characters’ relationship to time is a fruitful tool for analysis. And somebody asked: Is
Snufkin an adult? Does he grow older?
This is just a taste of what happened in the main sessions. We
in the Nordic group — Bengt Lundgren, of Södertörn University,
and the well-known Moomin researcher Agneta Rehal-Johansson,
formerly of Södertörn, now of the University of Gothenburg and
I — also presented papers: on the transformation of the Moomin
suite, on Moomin and Candide, and on the prevalence of Moomin
in everyday life.
The conference on “Moomins and the Others” was held in honor of the 100th anniversary of Tove Jansson, the creator of the
Moomin magic.≈
sara granath
Theatre critic and former senior lecturer in comparative literature,
Södertörn University
Note: A full report can be found on Baltic Worlds’ web site.
CBEES, Södertörn University, MA793, 141 89 Huddinge, Sweden